Four Albanian Teens Arrive in Berkeley

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The Kosovar Albanian teenager known to National Public Radio listeners as "Adona" came to the Bay Area last night to meet the Berkeley boy she corresponded with during the Balkan crisis.

Kujtesa Bejtullahu arrived at San Francisco International Airport yesterday to face a group of approximately 30 members of the media who barraged the teenager with questions about her e-mail correspondence with 17-year-old Berkeley resident Finnegan Hamil.

"I'm pretty excited," Bejtullahu said. "I was waiting for this moment a long time ago."

She arrived with three other Kosovar teens last night, following the efforts of Berkeley's First Congregational Church (of which Hamil is a member) to bring the youths to the United States.

Hamil and "Adona" began exchanging messages in January, after Marek Zelazkiewicz, a former UC Berkeley researcher and a member of the San Francisco-based Peace Workers group, put the two in contact. Throughout the correspondence, Zelazkiewicz said Bejtullahu hid from Serbians in Pristina, Kosovo's capital.

Zelazkiewicz said he traveled to Kosovo last fall with the peace organization to look for "the embers of a peace movement." He said he met members of the Post Pessimists, a youth activist group.

All four teens who arrived yesterday indicated they belong to the Post Pessimist organization, a group that opposes ethnic rivalry.

"Our aim is to bring solid communicative bridges between ethnicities," Bejtullahu said.

Bejtullahu asked Zelazkiewicz to connect her with an American pen pal. When Zelazkiewicz spoke to the Berkeley church youth group about the young Kosovar, Hamil expressed interest in writing to her.

Hamil, a member of Youth Radio in Berkeley, began reading Bejtullahu's correspondences over the air to raise awareness of his pen pal's plight.

Then, National Public Radio aired the broadcasts. Bejtullahu said the correspondence helped her and her family to lift their spirits.

"The moral support was extremely high. It was the best thing," she said. "It was what we all needed."

The teens will live with host families, church members said.

The teens said they are planning to continue their education in local high schools, if possible.

Two of the Kosovo teenagers will live in San Leandro with host families, church members said.

Gretchen Carlson said she and her family will host Bejtullahu and Grese Safaj, 16, for 10 months.

The two will attend either Berkeley High School or St. Mary's College High School, a private Catholic school in Berkeley, Carlson said.

She said the adjustment from the "chaotic, disordered" atmosphere of Kosovo to the comparative peace of Berkeley will not be easy.

"It's going to take them a while to get out of the war zone mentality," she said.

In addition to problems securing visas for the students, Carlson said enrolling them in high school proved difficult because of problems with course transcripts.

Carlson said the decision was made to bring the teens to Berkeley after the situation in Kosovo worsened. The church opened a nonprofit bank account and began soliciting donations to cover the costs of the teens' stay.

"It was really, really hard (to get them here)," Carlson said. "It was next to impossible."

The Post Pessimist group, sponsored by the Norwegian People's Aid Foundation, publishes a journal in both Serbian and Albanian and participates in community projects, including concerts and art exhibits.


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