Bosnian family finding Maryland a home away from war

September 03, 1995|By Christina Asquith | Christina Asquith,Sun Staff Writer

With the help of her new classmates, Sladjana Savic, 8, is not only surviving but enjoying life in a country where nothing is familiar and no one speaks the language of her war-torn homeland.

Last month, a local church group helped Sladjana and her family escape the gunfire and bloodshed in Bosnia for life in Annapolis. The group found them housing, jobs and a car. But all worried how Sladjana would fit into third grade. She could barely speak a word of English.

Then Sladjana met her classmates.

"She understands me," said Melisa Reyes, 9, of Annapolis, standing in a hallway of Parole Elementary School with her hands tucked into her overalls. "When the teacher says, 'Put your paper your desk,' Sladjana sees me and I say, 'Sladjana, put your paper on your desk.' And she puts her papers on her desk."

Each morning, Sladjana's new friends greet her with a singsong "Dobro Jutrorecite" -- "good morning" in Serb-Croatian. On the playground, Melisa helps Sladjana onto the monkey bars. Other friends show her how to dangle for 60 seconds.

"She's not too good at that," said Melisa, smiling at her friend.

In the art class, Sladjana stares, wide-eyed, as her classmate, Anthony Jackson, 8, pulls out crayons and draws wide swooping circles. She follows his every move, swivels her head to check with the teacher.

"Look at hers! Oh, that's nice," Anthony calls to his classmates and points over Sladjana's shoulder at her scribbled art. A chorus of "Odlican" -- Serb-Croatian for "excellent" -- rings out and Sladjana breaks into a big smile.

Sladjana and her sister, Dargana, who also attends Parole Elementary, came to Maryland through the help of Calvary United Methodist Church in Annapolis. Calvary worked with the Church of the Brethren in New Windsor, which runs a refugee program.

Church donations pay the rent for a home in Parole and give the Savics a weekly stipend of about $100. One member donated a used car. Church members also helped the parents, Miroslav and Joka Savic, find jobs.

Mr. Savic, who worked for a plastics company in Bosnia and also was a truck driver, now works as a detailer at Tate Nissan in Annapolis. Mrs. Savic, who worked as a cook, washes dishes at Fred's Restaurant in Annapolis. When her English improves, she hopes to become a cook.

The Rev. Byron Brought of Calvary United Methodist said the church will help the Savics until the family is self-supporting. The Savics were screened by the U.S. State Department, he said. Eventually, they will have to refund the cost of their airline tickets to the New Windsor church's refugee program.

"They lived a normal life, and the war just disrupted it," Mr. Brought said. "The family has really been through a lot."

At the school, Dargana, 10, practices spelling, reading and pronunciation with a teacher.

Sherryl Dushene, Sladjana's teacher, said the girls are excellent at math, polite and observant.

Ms. Dushene said Sladjana's favorite activity is listening to Dr. Seuss stories on the headphones.

"She would laugh out loud. Just sitting there cracking up and every now and then Melisa would come over and help her turn the pages," Ms. Dushene said.

On the playground, Sladjana and Melisa play together. "She likes playing with me and working with me and eating lunch with me," Melisa said. "She is my best friend."

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