I joined for peace
At just 5-years-old Branislav Vujic lived through his first war in the former Yugoslavia. He says he can still remember everything vividly. On his birthday in August of 1995, his family was forced to leave their home. They had become refugees overnight trying to escape the ethnic cleansing that characterized much of the conflict. They left their home in Croatia and moved to Serbia.
While traveling to Serbia along the highway, their vehicle became delayed near an overpass. While Branislav’s family waited in their car, people threw stones at them and other vehicles on the road. While young Branislav slept, a stone narrowly missed his head and his father continued their journey with one hand on the steering wheel and one hand over his son’s head trying to protect his child. Along that same road, many people were slaughtered over religious differences.
In 1999, at 12-years-old, Branislav survived his second war. He and his family were living in Northern Serbia when the Kosovo War began. In 1999, NATO bombed the area where Branislav lived. For 78 days the conflict persisted and Branislav remembers hearing the air raid sirens go off and beginning to feel immune to the bombing.
“You become immune to it after a while; you become adjusted over time,” he says. “That shouldn’t happen, not at that age, but that’s how it is.”
Finally in 2000, his family immigrated to the United States. After several interviews, a medical exam and a move to Romania the family was able to gain entry to the United States.
Branislav describes the move.
“I didn’t speak English when I arrived. I was 13 turning 14. It was a huge cultural shock and an adjustment to different demographics than where I’m from. We pretty much started with nothing; $150 to $200 in our pockets.”
Branislav was able to move into banking and eventually joined a Rotary club. He believes in Rotary because of its work to help people locally and around the world. He is especially grateful for Rotary’s work in war zones to help provide survivors with food, water and whatever they may need. He is thankful for the help his family received when he was growing up.
“Now because of that experience when I see war in other countries, I want to help out because I know how they feel. I was once in their shoes,” he continues. “I try to stand up for everyone. It doesn’t matter what religion or nationality – we are one people.”
This year’s Rotary International theme “peace through service” resonates with Branislav. He says that if you can work hard and focus on that work, peace is possible. He says that war will never solve anything.