From Kosovo to college, with a detour near Cedar Street

Two years ago, when a group of Yale medical students volunteered at a camp for Kosovo refugees, second-years Aaron Covey and Seth Goldbarg found themselves working triage in the camp hospital. As new arrivals stepped off the buses at Senekos, a makeshift city of white tents in neighboring Macedonia, the students assessed the refugees and directed those who were ill to medical care.

When they met 18-year-old Irfan Baftiu, who had been in the camp for several days and had come to the triage center simply to make himself useful, there was a little confusion. “I kept trying to help,” Irfan recalled, “and Aaron kept trying to give me water.”

But soon Irfan and his younger brother, Bafti, then 15, were close to indispensable. “They helped us with every project we did in the camp,” said Margaret Bourdeaux, another of the six Yale students who were assisting the camp’s medical staff (“Kosovo Journal,” Summer 1999). Irfan and Bafti, who had learned English from watching American television and movies, translated for patients and doctors, worked on a tent-to-tent health survey and a nutritional assessment of the children in the camp, and helped organize a soccer tournament and a theatrical production. “From the minute we met them,” said Covey, “we realized they were incredibly bright, with so much potential and such a desire to help.”

A year later, the two boys were a world away from battered Kosovo, enrolled at a New England boarding school and living less than an hour’s drive from their medical-student mentors in New Haven. The combined efforts of many—the boys’ American sponsor (an emergency physician from Ohio whom they met in the camp), the medical school dean’s office, the Loomis Chaffee School in nearby Windsor, Conn., and the medical students—resulted in student visas for Irfan and Bafti and a year of study to help them prepare for college. Loomis Chaffee provided full scholarships with room and board for the boys to attend a summer program as well as their final year of high school.

This summer the brothers moved to Cleveland and the home of their sponsor, Pamela Grim, M.D. In the fall, they will study at Oakland Community College in Michigan, work on their written English skills and think about the future. Bafti, who had a good year in math, is thinking about business.

His brother hopes to become a physician. “I saw a lot of things in Kosovo and in the camp that are pushing me in that direction,” Irfan said in April. “I saw victims of land mines. I saw the operating room and what they could do for them. And I know that I really want to help people.”