The Strikic family has been in the United States for almost 13 years. But their story actually begins in Bosnia, where husband and wife met in a refugee camp in Croatia, one of the many camps both were forced into. Now, 13 years after moving to the United States and almost two decades after the war in Bosnia began, the family of three has finally moved into the house they can call home.
Time of war
When the war in Bosnia began in the early 90s, Jasmina Strikic was in Bosnia for more than six months before she decided she would be safer in a refugee camp.
“I was shuffled from refugee camp to refugee camp in Croatia, where it was obviously peaceful,” Jasmina Strikic said.
While in her final camp, Jasmina Strikic met Davor Strikic and the two were later married. They soon made plans to leave behind the burdens of war.
“After war stops, we can’t be in refugee camps anymore, so the Croatian government was wondering what should they do with refugees right now,” Jasmina Strikic said. “One option was to go to the Capitol of Croatia and prepare your papers and pay a big amount of money to get your papers ready and go to the U.S.”
Already having family in the United States made it easier for the two of them to get their affairs in order and begin the immigration process.
“If we stayed in Bosnia, we would have been in separate towns, and we didn’t have a home anymore,” Jasmina Strikic said. “America just seemed logical.”
Having to recall countless memories of their hardships, the Strikics spent a year filling out paperwork and sitting through interviews with representatives from the U.S.
“You have to tell them your war story, what you’ve been through and then he decides if you’re worthy enough to come to U.S., if you went through bad enough stuff,” Jasmina Strikic said. “The hardest part was you have to go through all these memories and through all these bad things that happened to you or your family and you have to say it all.”
Hard times continue
Once in the United States, the Strikics were faced with the difficulties of learning a new language and trying to support a struggling family.
Even after four months of English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, Jasmina and Davor Strikic were still struggling with the language barrier, they said.
“I’ll tell you right now, anybody who is studying English, taking any classes, classes do not help whatsoever,” Jasmina Strikic said. “It’s talking to people on a bus stop, grocery store, work place, just talking to people and saying, ‘what do you mean?’ They’ll explain to you a lot easier, and it’s so much easier to learn.”
Once language was less of an obstacle, they moved to Fort Collins and became resident managers at an apartment complex where they received their rent for a lower cost.
“We didn’t know what we were getting into when we first took the job,” Jasmina Strikic said. “We were in charge of 40 units that were part of Care housing.”
Along with the stress of managing a large number of residents, the Strikic’s had their, now nine-year-old daughter, Aida, to care for and a house that never quite felt like a home.
“It was like a basement level, it was so dark, it felt like a dungeon first of all, then you don’t feel good in your home and then again you don’t have any privacy,” Jasmina Strikic said. “People would knock on the door when I was in the shower. I would have to come out and be like, ‘Can I take a shower?'”
A new habitat
Hearing about Habitat for Humanity through the grapevine, the Strikics sent in an application for a new home.
“We were one of the first families to turn in our application,” Jasmina Strikic said. “And my husband was very persistent, he wouldn’t give up, he kept calling.”
For two years, the Strikics went through interviews and meetings to decide on dates and locations for the build to begin. In May, the family broke ground and the house was finished for the Parade of Homes at the end of August.
“Through the summer, from June to August 31 its been building, everything else has just been talking and meeting and deciding,” Jasmina Strikic said.
Every habitat homeowner is required to log a certain number of “sweat equity” hours, and the Strikics have over 500 now that they collected working on their house.
“We volunteered about 350 sweat equity hours at the Habitat Store, sweeping, doing paperwork, keeping up with the delivery truck. Everything that any employee did, we did,” Jasmina Strikic said. “Davor came every week on his day off to work on the house.”
Working with a great staff from Habitat and students from CSU made the experience all the more memorable, she said.
“It definitely helps you if you’re especially stressed out about the house and you also have a stressful job, if you have to deal with somebody that is unpleasant it doesn’t help,” Jasmina Strikic said. “In our case, all these volunteers and habitat staff they were all super nice, it definitely helps you, it helps you deal with everything.”
The house was finished in record time and a part of the 2007 Parade of Homes, making it the first Habitat for Humanity home featured in the Home Builder’s Association of Northern Colorado’s Parade of Homes.
And after years of moving from refugee camps to refugee camps, the Strikic family finally has a place to call home and the opportunity to start their new life.
“People take for granted everything, hot water, food, warm bed, shelter, people take that for granted,” Jasmina Strikic said. “We did too, before the war started and then afterward, then you appreciate even that little drop of water and little piece of bread, you appreciate it very much. It’s like someone gave you a million bucks.”
New jobs are also on the family’s to do list. Jasmina Strikic will be looking for a job in retail, since it is what she has done since she was a teen. Davor Strikic will be looking for a job in law enforcement after a career in national security for the Croatian president.
“It’s something that all guys in the family did, for so many years,” Davor Strikic said. “I got passion for that kind of job, but I don’t know if it’s ever going to get through, if I’m going to get it or not. But I definitely want to.”
The Strikic’s moved into their new home one week ago and are excited to be given such a wonderful opportunity, they said.
“We were so proud, we were really proud even when it was just a hole, nothing else.” Jasmina Strikic said. “To watch it progress so much since that first day when we just saw a hole in the ground, and nothing else, and now it’s super amazing.”
Senior Reporter Ricki Dugdale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.