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Ad Council - #EmbraceRefugees

Imagine what it would be like to leave your entire world behind.

You're 4 years old, and your world is turned upside down. You leave your friends, your school, and most of your family behind as you flee to a place you've never been, where people have different customs and speak a different language.

You start a new school, but you can't afford new clothes. Everything you and your family have has been donated. You live in a one-room apartment with your entire extended family, and you want nothing more than for things to be normal again.


This imaginary scenario wasn't imaginary for many refugees who fled the war in Bosnia in the 1990s, hoping to make America home.

Melina Delkic was 4 when her family was forced to flee Bosnia.

One of many hearts painted onto a bombed sidewalk in Bosnia. Image by Elia Scudiero/Flickr.

Now a student at Georgetown University, Melina shared her memories of that time and about her family's journey since then with The Washington Post.

Her family resettled in St. Louis, Missouri, where they crammed into a small apartment. Seven people. One bedroom. One bathroom. It wasn't easy, but they were grateful to their new country for opening its doors.

Only 4 years old, Melina dreamed of becoming an "archaeologist princess." She taped posters of Aaron Carter and Britney Spears on the walls. She really wanted a puppy. And a house with stairs. Simple dreams.

The transition wasn't easy, but Melina's family didn't give up on America, and they didn't give up on themselves.

They embraced the culture and the traditions, even celebrating Christmas for the first time. They made it home.

Melina's family was one of tens of thousands of Bosnian refugees that settled in St. Louis. The community welcomed them, and they thrived.


The St. Louis Gateway Arch. Image by Philip Leara/Flickr.

It turns out they needed them as much as the refugees needed a home. It was a mutually beneficial relationship.

The economy in St. Louis had stagnated due to population decline. Crime was bad. Those who could afford to leave were fleeing to the suburbs. City services were failing. Neighborhoods were deteriorating, quickly.

South City, an area hit hard by the economic downswing, suddenly found itself flooded with new residents. Abandoned buildings filled with families. A new neighborhood was born. The area quickly became known as "Little Bosnia."

The results were incredible. A stagnating economy was rejuvenated. An abandoned part of the city suddenly thrived.

A 2012 Saint Louis University paper says, regarding the influx of Bosnian refugees:

"They revitalized parts of South St. Louis City and South St. Louis County by moving into older neighborhoods, opening businesses and rehabbing housing. Bosnians opened many thriving small businesses including bakeries, butcher shops, coffee shops, construction and heating and cooling companies, insurance companies and a truck-driving institute, and continue to be a key source of high skilled production work."

Refugees resettling in St. Louis was a win-win. It did wonders for the economy and gave the many families who were forced to abandon their lives and livelihoods a chance to start over.

The Bevo Mill, a St. Louis landmark in Little Bosnia. Image by Philip Leara/Flickr.

It's 2016 and we're again faced with this challenge: accept refugees or close our borders?

A lot has happened to cause fear. There's an undercurrent of terror that feels like it's running through the entire world. America has been reminded that we are, in fact, vulnerable and there are extremists out there who hate us.

But how we respond to that is up to us. Do we bow in fear and leave little girls like Melina and her family to fend for themselves? Or do we open our hearts and minds and, together, thrive?

A parade in Little Bosnia. Image by Jarred Gastreich, used with permission.

What would St. Louis be like today if we had closed our borders in fear? Where would those families be?

Today, Melina is a Georgetown University student. America is her home. She told The Washington Post:

"My parents and I have a house now, in St. Louis, with hardwood floors and stairs and a little dog who's getting chubby. We have family dinners in a real dining room with real furniture that we chose because we liked it, not because someone was giving it away."

And her family is proud to call America home.

"We are American because we cheer for the Cardinals and make buffalo chicken dip on Super Bowl Sunday ... I will not stop believing in the kind of tolerance, warmth and love that brought my family to America... My America is one where we open our hearts wider than we ever thought possible, and we don't ask why. It's where we give the starry-eyed little refugee her education, her puppy and her stairs, too."

St. Louis is ready and willing to open its doors again. Undeterred by fear and extremism, they're asking to once again be a haven for the millions of Syrians feeling terror in their own country.

America is stronger than fear and hate and destruction.

America is strong enough to open its heart and mind. America is strong enough to open its borders, giving new and old American lives a chance to thrive.

Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. Image by Trocaire/Flickr.