Helena Peric, a 6'1" freshman volleyball player at Missouri State University-West Plains, was still a baby when her family home was set ablaze in Croatia.
The wars in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s were fought mostly between small republics who wanted their independence, and a strong central government in Belgrade, Serbia. The ugly conflicts brought to the world stage centuries of ethnic tension.
Human rights groups estimate that 140,000 people were killed in the Yugoslav Wars, including thousands of Bosnian Muslim civilian men and boys who were lined up and shot by Bosnian Serb troops in a massacre of ethnic cleansing.
Other minority ethnic groups--Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Slovenes--were purged from their communities when tensions and the fervor of nationalism heated up across the former Yugoslavia.
Peric was born into this tumultuous landscape—to an ethnically Serbian family within the borders of Croatia. She and her family were forced from their home in 1995.
Today, Peric is a freshman on a full ride scholarship at Missouri State University-West Plains. To say that she’s a superstar on the volleyball court might even be running the risk of understating her accomplishments: this year alone, in addition to her All-American honors, she recorded 501 kills, 49 aces, and 594 total points. She says she wants to finish her four year degree and coach volleyball.
(Click the MP3 player link above to hear the audio to this interview).