Safete Binaku moved to Sweden aged 13 and now runs a non-profit organization alongside her day job. Photo: Private

Safete Binaku moved to Sweden aged 13 and now runs a non-profit organization alongside her day job. Photo: Private

Her first journey here wasn’t an easy one. Binaku’s family were among roughly one million Kosovo Albanians who fled or were driven out of the country during the Kosovo War in the late 1990s.

“A few days after we left, in the spring of 1998, the entire area where I lived was burned down,” Binaku says. They headed to Sweden, but the only thing the 13-year-old knew about the Scandinavian country was that her uncle lived there, having left their homeland already.

“I grew up in a very homogeneous country and didn’t know much about the world and other countries. Coming to Sweden, I had to learn Swedish and about the culture, and I was put in an international class, so there were people from all over the world,” she remembers.

Without knowing the language or much about the history or culture of her new country, one thing that helped the teenager was reading, and she is full of praise for the teachers who offered her support.

“The Swedes who took care of us were very warm and open-minded. I got so much attention as a child and even in a big class, teachers see you as a person and encourage you,” she explains. “One of the teachers took me to the library, and even though I had never really read an entire book and didn’t speak Swedish, she said ‘it doesn’t matter, just pick a book and try’. That’s when I started reading and I haven’t stopped since then.”

She describes finding her place in Swedish social circles as a “gradual process”, and adds that once she took the first step in approaching her classmates at school, they were warm and welcoming.

In the Swedish capital, she has worked with three different companies (in pharmaceuticals, construction, and telecoms) as an IT consultant, which she describes as a job revolving around problem-solving: “I’m really driven by that. The more complex an issue is, the more encouraged I am to try to solve it.”

This is also the motivation behind the non-profit organization she co-founded one and a half years ago.

The Library Project Kosova promotes reading and literacy in her home country, where she says international figures show the average 15-year-old has a reading level equivalent to a nine-year-old in most other countries.

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