Dafina Hajrullahu - 2006 Recipient
Thanksgiving is my family's favorite holiday because it was introduced to us as a peaceful holiday that celebrated cultures coming together. My mother was taught to cook a Thanksgiving dinner by my American aunt. Since then, she has followed the tradition of cooking a big turkey and seeing all of us together. I love the holiday because it reminds my family and me to be thankful that we have each other and are living in peace. Peace means a lot to me because I was born in Kosova, in a war-torn country. I did not experience peace until I came to the United States. To celebrate a great holiday like Thanksgiving makes me very thankful to be where I am.
I remember one night when my city, Gjilan, was dark; you could not see a soul. I heard hundreds of people walking in a line down the street. They had left heir homes, which had been burned, and were walking, in straight line leading nowhere. The next morning the streets were empty; those people were not there anymore. Later that day, I went out to play with my friends in the playground; I heard a siren and I did not know what to do. My dad grabbed me in the house; everyone was running to the basement. My city was getting bombed. The next morning I had to leave my city because it became too dangerous to live there. I had to leave all my possessions, my family and friends without saying goodbye. My father stayed behind with my grandparents because they were not in good health condition. I went with my mother and siblings to a town that was safer, but in a couple of days it became dangerous, too. We had to move from place to place.
Sometimes there was no food and cold weather. Every town we went to for safety became dangerous until when we moved to Macedonia to stay with a relative.
I came to United States on May 25, 1999 to live with my mother's uncle and his family. We still had no idea if my father and grandparents were alive; they didn't know if we were alive, either. In a couple of months, the war was over and we contacted my family. They were amazed that we were in America, but glad we were safe, we were also relieved that they were safe also.
Experiencing a war has shaped my life and taught me to be strong and not to let go of hope. It has helped me realize what I want to do in the future. When peacemakers came from different countries to help us, they brought joy and tears to my people and me. I want to bring that hope and joy like the peacekeepers brought to me; I want to share that feeling with refugees around the world.
Two summers ago, I volunteered in an Interfaith Center; I worked with refugees from Somalia. They reminded me of myself when I came to United States, living in shock, still trying to believe how far I had come. Their experience is a little different from mine, but as refugees we could all relate to the sacrifices we had to make. No one chose to be a refugee; we were all forced to leave our countries. When I think of how many of their friends and families are still living in Somalia, it devastates me. For my 190 hours of volunteer service, I received the Sheriff's Cook County Medal Award. I was proud to be recognized and to share my experience with the refugees with others.
Thanksgiving is still celebrated in my family. This Thanksgiving, we had family and friends over of all different ethnic backgrounds. Everyone brought an ethnic dish, and everyone shared their culture and customs. We all sat down to eat, facing each other. We were all different, yet the same deep inside. Every person in the world has desires, needs and goals; our outside looks were created to cover those feelings and emotions. I hope I can sit all countries together, face each other, and see no difference, like we did. Then we could all celebrate Thanksgiving peacefully.