I’ve been told that my story would make for a good book. And maybe it is the stuff of a dramatic tale, but it’s all true and it has made me who I am today.
I grew up during the Yugoslav wars and learned early to live in fear and to not take freedom for granted. I was living in Vukovar, Croatia with my family - my father, mother and older brother. My father was an artist and a boxer, and my mother worked in a well-known Yugoslavian shoe factory.
In 1991 the war started, and we had to flee in a row boat across Danube to Serbia. All the men had to go to the war, and so did my father. Unfortunately, on the last day of war he was killed at 33 years old. This day is now celebrated as Independence Day in Croatia, however to me it represents the day when our life has changed forever.
We were refugees with no home, food or sense of safety. At seven years old, I was sponsored through World Vision’s Child Sponsorship Program. My sponsor’s support meant I had access to food, clothing, education and shelter. For the next seven years, we relied on several charitable organizations, all the while having to flee because of continued unrest and war. Growing up, I always felt like I was in the middle of crisis. But I learned how to be a survivor.
My mother knew that she couldn’t provide much for us where we were living at the time, so she did everything to get us out and give us better future.
When I was 15 years old, we came to Canada. I remember like it was yesterday, one of the planes went to Kitchener, Ontario, and the other was bound for Winnipeg. So as the saying goes, I was “going to Winnipeg!”
On December 14, 1999, I arrived to a snowy, unfamiliar land, for a new life.
Starting grade nine in Canada was scary, I didn’t speak English and didn’t fit in. I didn’t feel like I belonged. I had to learn the language, the culture, and the traditions. Most of all, I had to learn how to live peacefully, in an environment without fear of something happening.
Fast forward many years to 2008 when I came to UFA on what started as a contract position but would turn into a long career in many different roles. I’ve felt like UFA was a big family, which was comforting since most of my family were still in Serbia. I know how important it is to feel a sense of belonging and I have almost always felt welcome at UFA, and never like an outsider, even though most people don’t know my story.
Today, I am happily married to Jean-Paul, an Irishman from Quebec. I have two boys, Marko who is 13 years old, and Alexander who is 5. I’m a Procurement Coordinator at UFA and I look forward to visiting my home country now that the pandemic is over.
Looking back on my life, I guess I do have a unique story and I’m happy to share it. I’m proud of where I come from and grateful for everything I’ve been through. I am a wife and mother. I am a war survivor. I am me. I belong.