When Nevena Peluga arrived in North Carolina in 1995, she spoke almost no English and was forced to enter a new culture and quickly find work, all while supporting her two sons. Her lost career as an attorney was not among her most pressing concerns.
After five years of living as a refugee during the Yugoslav Civil War, the challenge of starting over was daunting. And the professional success she’d enjoyed in Bosnia felt difficult to replicate in the United States. But in 18 years since coming to America, Nevena has seen her young boys blossom into successful adults and enjoyed a career revival all the more inspiring for the challenges along the way.
Nevena’s family was welcomed and supported by Episcopal Migration Ministries’ affiliate partners at Interfaith Refugee Ministry and the First Presbyterian Church in New Bern for their first year. Shortly after arriving she was able to find work cleaning houses before finding a job in the mail room at a law firm.
A professional in her home country and a highly literate person, Nevena was embarrassed at her inability to read elementary books with her children and missed her ability to engage with books and have an intellectual life. Through years of classes and hard work, she began to master English and found work first as a day-care instructor, then as a teaching assistant at Trent Park Elementary where her boys attended school.
After completing the course work needed to receive her teaching certification in the state of North Carolina, Nevena has spent the last thirteen years as a classroom teacher at Trent Park, helping educate hundreds of youngsters in that time. All the while, she’s raised her boys as a single mother and seen them both head off to college.
In spite of all the strides she’s made, Nevana feels she still has more to contribute. She’s interested in more education in the future, and would like the opportunity to consult with other parents of children with diabetes, which affects both of her sons.
Though convinced she has more challenges to tackle, Nevena says that the refugee resettlement program rescued her from a place of despair and made all of her successes possible.
“As a refugee, I spent so much time being hated. I didn’t see any future,” she said. “I’m so glad that programs like this exist to give new leases for life. It’s possible for you to live again.”
“I don’t know what would happen to my family if we didn’t come here. I have no idea.”