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Albanian Volunteer Knows What It Means to Start Over in Another Country

All too often, men, women, and children around the world are forced to flee from war and persecution on a moment’s notice, leaving behind their homes, their countries, their lives.  Spending years in refugee camps, their only chance to rebuild their lives is by being resettled in another country, such as the United States.

Detroit is one of many cities across the country that welcomes refugees.  As soon as they arrive, refugees face an enormous task: to become self-sufficient, contributing members of their new community. 

“I am familiar with everything refugees have to go through every step of the way,” said Enkela Belishta, 38, a volunteer at the USCRI Detroit Field Office.  Enkela handles the filing, copying, organizing, and other behind-the-scenes work essential in making the refugee resettlement process a success.  Thanks to six months of preparing the pre-arrival paperwork for refugees coming to the area, she knows the resettlement process inside and out. 

But there is another reason why Enkela is so familiar with what newcomers to this country have to go through: first-hand experience.  An immigrant from Albania, she came to the United States with her husband and four-year-old daughter eight years ago.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have anyone to show them the ropes and offer support along the way.  Their relatives in Detroit tried to help as best they could, but because they had to work they weren’t around during the day.  With no one to drive them around to appointments and job interviews, the newly arrived Belishtas had to fend for themselves from the very beginning.  The fact that Enkela was pregnant at the time made matters only more difficult.  

“We were not prepared. We didn’t know what to expect and we had nobody to help us and guide us,” remembered Enkela.  Coming from a formerly communist country, she thought that everything would be much easier in America, the land of opportunity.  “We expected to find sky scrapers and live the life we saw in the movies.”

The Belishtas soon found out that life in the United States was not without challenges.  The language barrier coupled with limited public transportation made simple, day-to-day activities, such as shopping for groceries or going to see a doctor, very difficult.  But like most newcomers, they were eager to learn English and work hard in the hopes of providing a better future for their children. 

Within a month, Enkela’s husband found a job that paid well enough to buy a used car and support his family while Enkela, who had recently given birth to a baby boy, stayed home to care for the children.  She joined the workforce as soon as their son was old enough for pre-school.  Today, she juggles work and classes at the University of Michigan, where she is pursuing a degree in criminal justice.

Enkela spends every opportunity she gets volunteering at the office of USCRI Detroit, a resettlement agency that provides exactly the kind of services she wished she had access to when she first came to America.  Opened in 2003, USCRI’s field office in Detroit boasts a multicultural, multilingual team of people dedicated to helping newly arrived refugees feel at home in their new community.  Staff and volunteers pick up arriving families at the airport and help them find and furnish a humble, safe home, learn English, and enroll their children in school. 

“That type of support is invaluable,” said Enkela, explaining that helping refugees is very important to her because she can relate to the experience.  “I needed people to help me,” she said.  “Now I want to help others.”  

You too can help refugees build a new life in the your area. Find a USCRI field office or partner agency near you >>

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