Monday, January 22, 2018
St. Louis Bosnians

Bosnian refugee finds better life in Columbia

One of man’s most brutal atrocities in the past century was the so-called “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia two decades ago.

Non-Serbian men were rounded up, murdered and buried in mass graves, if they were buried at all. Wives saw their men taken from them, never to return, never to know their fate.

Hajrudin Hasanovic and his wife, Safija, lived in Zvornik, where Hajrudin was a small business man and Safija tended the couple’s young daughter Sanita. Life was reasonably comfortable until all hell broke loose.

As the men were being captured by the Serbians, Hajrudin and his brother grabbed their youngsters and ran for safety into the woods. The brother was killed, leaving his baby to die, but Hajrudin was able to take care of both youngsters and eventually unite with his wife, whose father had disappeared, never to be found.

The family set up life in a town, Tuzla, which the Serbians had left behind. Sanita, now 22, a 2009 graduate of Hickman High School and a 2011 grad of Moberly Area Community College, recalls her early life, being unable to play outside until mines could be cleared from her town, always in fear of the Serbians. Good education, though, was still available.

Like thousands of others, Sanita’s parents applied for a new life outside Bosnia, waiting for years filled with paperwork and interviews. Then, when the call came, the family was given 24 hours to collect their valuable belongings and come to America.

“We had no idea which America. We knew there two of them,” Sanita recalled. “We flew to Frankfurt, then to St. Louis and finally Columbia, where we were greeted by our sponsor, the First Christian Church of Columbia. We had no idea what to expect, and none of us spoke a word of English. I was 9, and my sister, Melissa, was 2. All we knew was that Columbia would be a better life than war-torn Bosnia.”

Hajrudin found work as a maintenance man at Columbia Housing Authority, Safija works in the warehouse at MBS and Melissa is an active and involved sophomore at Rock Bridge High. The parents still have trouble with English, and Melissa with Bosnian since English became the language she heard everywhere except at home.

And Sanita? When she landed in Columbia, her third-grade Bosnian education actually placed her in fifth grade at Russell Boulevard Elementary School, unable to speak a word of English. Then began a heart-warming journey toward becoming a nurse.

Sanita landed in a small group of Bosnians in a class of English as a second language taught by Mrs. Marilyn Zumwalt. “She was a fantastic teacher,” Sanita said.

By the seventh grade, Sanita was in regular classes at Smithton Middle School and, by the time she reached Hickman, she was an honor student.

As an 11th-grader at Hickman, she was accepted into a program titled “Tomorrow’s Health Care Elite.” It was here she decided to become a nurse. She felt at home in a hospital and as a senior was certified as a nursing assistant. She spent six months at The Bluffs, then, in February 2010, moved to Boone Hospital Center, where she spends most of her hours in the rehabilitation unit. That’s where we me last month as I began recovery from a hip replacement/busted femur daily double.

I knew nothing of Sanita’s background, but I was captivated by her rapport with patients, her obvious love of what she was doing. I knew that we would have lunch because she was a special story.

Sanita’s days leave her little time to enjoy being a young woman. She attends Central Methodist University three days a week in the nursing program, spends seven hours each Thursday in clinical training in the BHC orthopedic ward, and every other Saturday and Sunday works eight-hour shifts in the rehab unit.

In addition to work, she spends three afternoons a week helping with housework and almost every night doing homework for her nurses’ classes.

Sanita Hasanovic is one of a kind. She made a busted femur worthwhile.

SOURCE: Columbia Tribune

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About The Author


The St. Louis Bosnian is an online database of Bosnian community in St. Louis. The purpose is to document and preserve existence of the Bosnian immigrant community in metropolitan St. Louis area. Through published books, articles, interviews, researches, videos, photos as well as speaker series, seminars, workshops and educational classes. We hope to leave the legacy of our community to the future generations.

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