Barbara Ozimica was born in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War and, after facing difficult conditions, her family moved to the United States. Today, she is a City Year Little Rock AmeriCorps member, and she is using her unique background to connect with her students and help them succeed.

By Barabara Ozimica, City Year Little Rock AmeriCorps member '17

I was born in Sarajevo in Bosnia in 1994.I was born during the war so there wasn't, you know, a lot or electricity running water. My mom, when she was pregnant with me, only ate about two pieces of toast and some homemade mayonnaise. There wasn't a lot of food and on the day that I was born, my mother had walk to the hospital and carry a gallon of water.

I think just the whole time my family was living in a nightmare. They had to burn a lot of their belongings to stay warm in the winter and especially for me to stay warm.

I survived. My parents made it to the United States. My dad had a distant relative -- a distant uncle here and that's why they chose [to move to] Hot Springs. When we got there, I was really scared. My parents started speaking English, and I cried a lot because I didn't know what were they talking about; I couldn't understand them. 

Now I work as a City Year Little Rock AmeriCorps member, as a literacy tutor, a behavior co-coordinator and a team member.

Barbara serving with City Year Little Rock

My experience as a refugee has not only influenced my time at City Year but has influenced even my research in college on multicultural issues, which brought me to this organization. It feels like I have been led here by simply staying true to who I am and caring about those who have complex backgrounds like me. 

That’s how I feel about my students. I see their complexities that sometimes they try to suppress, and I try to let their differences shine. I think my background really ties me to the students whom I serve because they're kind of seen as different and so that's something that they struggle with sometimes. That's something that I struggled with in school, too. I hated having a little bit of an accent for a little bit. I hated being pulled out of class to go with my ESL counselor and I hated being different.

I work with a Hispanic student from Mexico, and he really influences me. I feel like I learned something new from him every day. I tutor him in English. He brings his stuff to class now. He used to not bring his backpack to school, and now he brings his backpack to school. He has paper. I'm really proud of him because his grades are improving and I even see it in other subjects too, so I'm really proud.

"People were scared of differences and so I think fear drives a lot, and I want people to embrace differences. When they aren't embraced, you see that a war can happen."  - Barbara Ozimica

I really want to help my students let their differences shine because that's kind of the thing that drove the war in Bosnia. People were scared of differences and so I think fear drives a lot, and I want people to embrace differences. When they aren't embraced, you see that a war can happen. 

I'm going to graduate school in the fall for school psychology and I want to be able to work in different schools. I want to work in high school, of course. I really love working in high school this year. A lot of people don't realize that these kids might be older but that doesn't always mean that they have everything together.

I think the work here at Hall High school and the teachers’ commitment to all students are what I admire the most. Humans are emotional beings and so we need each other. We need to help each other, and we definitely need to help people who are different from ourselves. I'm similar to some of my students, but I'm definitely a lot different from other students, but the connections that we make special. By understanding those who are different, we can avoid wars, we can avoid conflicts and we can really grow.

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