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VOA's Voices:  Zamira Islami - 2002-05-03

Zamira Islami fled communist Albania with her brother and sister by wading into the cold waters of the Adriatic Sea and swimming for twelve hours to freedom in Greece.

In 1975, hours after her teen-aged brother was arrested for making anti-government remarks to a friend, Zamira, then 17, her sister Isabela, 22, and the entire Islami family were banished to a remote village in southern Albania.

For the next ten years they worked at hard labor, tilling rocky soil, with no hope of returning to Tirana, or continuing their education, or even marrying. After his release from prison, Klement gradually convinced his sisters that their only chance at a future lay in escape. Their parents agreed, and urged their three children to go, knowing that they would never see them again.

Picked up by an Italian yacht off the coast of Corfu, Zamira and Isabela --their brother perished during the escape--became a sensational international news story. They were granted asylum in Greece, but set their sights on America, and in December 1984 came to the United States, to be greeted as the heroines they were by the Albanian community.

Zamira came to work at the Voice of America in 1985, following in the footsteps of her older sister. Listening clandestinely to Voice of America broadcasts in their God-forsaken village in Albania, the sisters had never imagined that one day they themselves would be the "voice of truth" to their countrymen. The satisfaction of bringing information to Albania continued for Zamira through the turbulent events in the Balkans in the 1990s, and culminated with the "hot-line" VOA's Albanian Service established for Albanians looking for lost loved ones during the Kosovo crisis in 1998.

Today Zamira leads a double life: broadcasting news from America and the world in Albanian to her native Albania, then going home to her American husband and children, Mary and Mason. For her, she says, this is the best of both worlds.