Exclusive Interview with Dr. Elda Sinani, LL.M./
Interviewed by Raimonda MOISIU/
.Dr. Elda Sinani L.L.M., is a highly accomplished and educated Albanian-American Woman. She’s an inspiration to all of them, who leave their life behind in Albania for pursuing the dream and making it true, in America. Dr. Elda Sinani performed the studies for Law Degree in Albania, then she graduated for Law Degree from the University of Connecticut Law School and a Doctorate, from Northeastern University in Boston, MA. She has attended and spoken trainings at well-known institutions such as Yale and Harvard University, on subjects such as Human Trafficking, Leadership and International Human Rights. She’s a part-time professor teaching international negotiations to high profile figures such as the ambassadors to Nigeria and Ghana, among other political figures. Her teachings and research areas include women’s human rights, social justice, peace building, international development, human trafficking, education, crime prevention, negotiation, leadership development, conflict resolution, immigration, and gender discrimination.
Dr. Elda Sinani is the author of several reports and articles on human rights, racial and gender discrimination, and immigration issues. Her name was added to the Wall of Tolerance in Montgomery, Alabama, providing inspiration to all those who’re choosing to take a stand against hatred and racial discrimination. Pretty soon, she’s going to be an author and is the “go-to” advisor to some of the most successful businesses men and women in the Greater Hartford, Connecticut area. Among others, she is a prominent figure of Albanian Diaspora in USA.
Under her coordination and initiative, an event to celebrate the Albanian Independence Day, it was held for the first time in Hartford, CT on November 28th, 2007. Also she’s a well-known public speaker. For her precious contribution to the community, she’s honored with international and national recognition on her research into human trafficking, crime prevention, negotiation, leadership development, and conflict resolution.
–Dr. Elda It’s nice to talk with you. You’ve accomplished so much in your life in such a short period of time. Tell me, how are you taking all of this in? I mean all this success, and how do you feel about the spiritual and moral obligations of being an Albanian woman in multicultural America?
Thank you for having me and thank you for such a warm introduction. First I don’t see myself as being any better than anyone else. As you say, I just feel a calling from God on a spiritual level and a responsibility to not only Albanian Americans, but to the society as a whole standing up for the rights of all of us. So, we may all live together in a peaceful society, where everyone is recognized of their own values, that they bring to this wonderful world, living in and sharing together. Besides of that, I think, it’s time describing my experiences and hopes, that the reader will be inspired, especially all immigrant women out there.
–That is really wonderful Dr. Elda. So what would you say is the most important thing you’ve learned in the course of your life?
I’ve learned so many important things, and beautiful thing through the difficult sittuations in life, when I was thinking the things were going the way I wanted them to go. The life, really, it has a way of cutting you down at the knees, only to build you back up stronger with more street smarts, than you had before and with a real sense of appreciation for having conquered another obstacle that you didn’t let trip you up. If I were to name one thing above all, I would say the most important thing I’ve learned, -it is -that it’s not what you d, when the sun is shining, but what you do, when the sun doesn’t come out for days, weeks or even months or years. Do you lay your head down and quit or do you get back up and persist in the face of adversity knowing the sun will shine for you again and much brighter than before?! I learned that with the almighty God, there is really nothing that I cannot do and anyone with unshakable faith in Him and the drive to take massive action can and will make their dreams come true.But what is the meaning of life really? For me, it is every breath, every love, and every moment of peace, that we give and receive from each other. Life is a chain of ongoing moments that are transformed continually. Those moments are the energy, the breath, and the beats of our hearts creating our universe. Often in the evenings, when I get back from work, I glance up and see the sky filled with stars, and then I say to myself; Everything is perfect. If a situation is difficult or beautiful it is just a moment, thus they do not last. But foremost, it is important for us to embrace those moments with an open heart, by saying, this time created a nice memory, or the moment created a lesson to me. This way we realize that we never lost. Expecting and experiencing life in a positive way and with an open heart to whatever happens, is the key for us, as humans, to survive in a society where we are surrounded often by negativity and ego. In addition, being adaptable to whatever happens gives us a positive perspective to understand life, and inspires us to go forward.I migrated to America with my first born son Klint and my husband at the time. The moment I left my country, I realized I was missing something. A part of my soul was gone and it was still in my home town with my family who I left behind for a better life. Strange thing is I was a Prosecutor in Albania and when I came to America I was a dishwasher in a restaurant making very little money. It was a reality check. You need to start from the bottom and work your way up, nothing is handed to you. During these years I faced many challenges as any new immigrant does in a foreign country. However, no matter how many challenges I was facing as a single parent or as an immigrant woman, I put myself through law school at Uconn Law and got my law degree. I didn’t stop my education there but I pursued my Doctorate from Northeastern University, Boston. My dissertation was titled, “Stepping Up from the Shadows: Creating a Model for Leadership Development Among Immigrant Women.” I wanted to do this specific research because from my own experience, I knew that there are many immigrant women who are overcoming the numerous barriers they face and becoming leaders both within their own communities and in the general population. I wanted to tell their stories and create a leadership model in order to inspire other immigrant women and women in general to take full advantage of the opportunities this country offers. If I can go from the bottom to top then anyone who sees a rainy day as another day of opportunity can do anything they dream of. There so many things in life that we just cannot control like death, accidents, and for the most part illnesses, but we can control how we react and decide to respond to these unexpected events that come before us. We can control our thoughts and our actions. How we manage to adapt to these events in life, it is the key to understanding life itself. The meaning of life is not found in a certain faith or sentence, but in the process of many beautiful moments that we experience on its way.
-You have a “list”, of educational accomplishments and you have been a receiver of national and international awards. How did you get up there and to whom, do you dedicate your accomplishments?
-Again hard work is how I got here but I must also give my parents and my sons Klint and Aaron credit for where I am today. My boys inspire and motivate me every single day.
I have been developed and educated by two families, two countries, and two societies at the same time. I am a mix of Albanian and American culture. It is strange where you end up sometimes. My life was turned around. It is nothing that I expected it to be. It’s nothing like what I had planned when I was young. In my youth, my passion was fashion design and fashion shows, passion which I never left, even when I went to a different profession. However my passion for art helped me to some degree to see the stormy cloudy world with an artist’s eye as a beautiful world. After I graduated from law school in my homeland, I worked as a lawyer and as a prosecutor, which was not very easy at that time in my country. But I gained great experience, and became passionate about the fight against the human trafficking, human rights, organized crime, and corruption. I understood how hard is to be put in a position to fight for justice, a fight that continues in different ways today as well.
When you walk in with a steady pace no matter how long it will take you, and it will reach the right destination, you will realize your dreams. The key is to be firm and clear in your vision. The understanding your life is the purpose and planning the believe and work hard is to achieve that purpose.
-You are successful and very popular in the community with a dedication to work in public service, City of Hartford. Can you tell us in greater details how you started the job and what are the challenges working in the public sector?
I have been working for almost ten years for the City of Hartford. As an administrator I expect compliance with laws, rules, regulations, policies and applying them effectively on day to day work.All smarts and degrees you have won’t get you anywhere if you can’t work with people. If I started work based on my qualifications, my subsequent success has been achieved due to my continuing positive results of my work and professional networks. A leader’s success is the ability to conduct and direct the energies of his/her employees in the right direction. Great leaders value the abilities of their employees and they learn what is the best to integrate them into a coordinated plan. They take personal responsibility and initiative, and they don’t walk and talk like victims. However, one of the interesting things when you are in public life, it is that you are constantly prey to the pressures of the media, prey to people with their own personal interests, agendas, and different interpretations. Apparently, today’s society is drawn quickly to negative news. People pay more attention to negative news for some reason. Perhaps this is due to hate and venom that some people have in their veins, which gives me a little bit of hope for society and humanity in general. If people will be fed with negativity, what do you expect? They will reflect that negativity. It’s our job as women, mothers, as human rights advocates to change the perception of media and negative news. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and interpretations. And I am fine with that, as long as you don’t misinterpret or lie. I have a very small toleration for negativity and judgmental people. If you don’t have anything positive to say or do, please don’t do or reflect negativity. Don’t poison, but love. This is what we humans are supposed to be and develop. We are where we are, because we loved and collaborated.
Do I have challenges? A lot! But I love them. You are every day in the scrutiny of public. These days, the internet is the opportunity for anybody to say or do anything. What can I say? You aren’t ready for success if you can’t handle being talked about, right? I respect those who write openly with their true names, I respect even the ones who are ignorant of facts and misinterpret the stories, as long as they are expressing their free opinion. I just smile and say “too bad,” they don’t know what they’re doing. I know who I am. I am happy, and I am not what you say or hear! We are all surrounded somehow by haters. What frustrates me is, when I read the anonymous commenters, which are nothing but cowards. I am not what some people write anonymously based on their jealousies, insecurities, xenophobic ways, racism or hate that they have. I really don’t pay attention to what people say or do. I didn’t get where I am based on nepotism or favoritism. I got where I am, through hard work, ethics, professionalism, education and determination!I have cope with these challenges by maintaining my moral compass, and I have chosen strategically to remain calm by asking myself – whether it is worth it to worry about them? The answer is very clear – “No.”Actions, facts, and my experience will tell my story and the truth. As Nietzsche said, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”
– You are very integrated with the Human Rights issues, especially about women empowerment and their progress in the global society. How do you consider the gender equity around the world?
Human rights, especially women’s rights and gender equality are my passions. It’s all about understanding and respecting women in general. As simple as that!If you want to understand a woman, just take a moment and look at her eyes. They have a language that only love and justice understands. Their eyes are the windows of their pure soul. The beauty of a woman it’s not how she looks and how she dresses. It’s how she makes you feel. It’s her soul. Women are the nurturing force of the world. They are the creators of the world. Sometimes women are reluctant to talk openly about their needs, their desires and their concerns, because they are so afraid of the fact what others may think or say. Please again, try to understand them. They are your mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, granddaughters, grandmothers. They are your fruit of love. My persistence and determination for gender equality, eliminating pay disparities, empowering women in the political and social arena won’t stop until His-Story becomes Her-Story. I made this promise to myself and to all the women all over the world when I speak. I will fight for our rights through my research, speaking and advocacy.
Dr. Elda, you are in the process of publication of your first book about gender equality and the role of immigrant women in political and social leadership. How did you get the idea for this book? What are some of the challenges that women face in leadership?
I wanted to do a study on leadership among immigrant women in this country. I soon found that virtually all existing academic work on immigrant women focused on negative aspects, such as spousal abuse and substance abuse. So, during my research, I’ve witnessed that as the role of American women is growing in political and business leadership, immigrant women are being left behind. No matter how smart, or knowledgeable, or educated they may be, they are not treated the same. During my research, I found that a low percentage of immigrant women and women in general, are in the key positions of leadership, and this is due to the opinions some immigrant women have brought with them from their countries, the harsh realities that they find when they arrive in US, their jealousies and insecurities that they have for one another, the discriminatory practices that they experience not only as women but also as immigrant women due to xenophobic views. Looking at all these factors, I was able to create a model of how women should identify, encourage, develop and strengthen their leadership skills. A woman’s leadership development and their meaningful participation in peace processes, political leadership and social institutions is a very important factor for building peace throughout the world. There are still people who underestimate us as leaders because of gender. It is sad sometimes when you see that women are underestimated by women leaders themselves, and this is due to their insecurities that these women have. But at the end, we as woman leaders need to talk often and educate the public about our abilities and successes.
-As far as I know you teach around the world international negotiation and conflict resolution classes. Can you tell us more?
I am fortunate to have been given the opportunity to teach and lecture on some of my favorite subjects, conflict resolution, negotiation, and international human rights in different universities around the world. I have visited and taught in different countries such as in Dubai, Turkey, Ghana, and South Africa. Through these lectures students are fully provided with the elements and practices of negotiation, conflict resolution, and multilateral agreements in the international arena. The students examine the role of government and the strategies that are followed during international negotiations. They analyze, review, and learn how to analyze each situation, set up agreements in ways that are helpful for their side, manage the cultural differences, negotiation styles, and managing the international negotiation process to reach a deal.
-As a woman and a mother, how do you feel when you hear about crime, violence, drugs, prostitution, and human trafficking? In your opinion, what is the solution to these painful phenomena?
Words can’t describe how sad I feel emotionally about crime towards women.
We need to understand that our human society historically has created these phenomena. It was created by families that are dominated by the male power structure.
During my time as a prosecutor I remember some human trafficking cases that I had to investigate. I feel emotionally drained just remembering those cases. There was one where I found that innocent girls were taken and promised a different life by men that these girls had fallen in love with, but instead they were sex-trafficked by these men. Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery and society need to be educated. From my experience investigating these cases, traffickers target women and girls who are vulnerable by promising them a better life, and then they force them to work for them, and if they don’t comply they get abused physically and emotionally. They get raped or even killed.
We, as a human society need to understand that violence against women has a devastating effect, not only on their families, but on the society itself. Many victims suffer physical damage and even death in some cases. This violence can lead abused women to suicide and mental illness. There are times that due to the violence that these women suffer they may lose their jobs, homes or become isolated from society, family and friends. Please, I call for everyone to look for these signs and assist these abused women. They are not in that situation because of their choice but because someone abused and tortured them. We as a society need to do a better job to address the violence against women. This requires more humanitarian and social activities to educate society on the prevention of this brutal violence. Our governments should provide financial assistance, mental health support, and emotional support for the victims, and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Worldwide, the reality of the abuse towards women is unclear. Discriminatory practices and social norms in different countries continue to delay the full enjoyment of human rights by many women. Insufficient political representation by women in positions of decision-making and lack of resources to address the violence towards women are obstacles to the further progress of women’s rights in society. The fight against this violence is nothing less than a demand for full respect of our rights as humans.
-What is your concept for the political power, political parties, and democracy in our homeland Albania?
Unfortunately, our Albanian political parties have not established a pleasant reputation for the people. In my opinion, they need to understand both sides of the coin in the political process. First, their duty is to create programs that link their political processes and the public. Second, their programs need to be transparent and reflect the best interest of Albanian people. True leaders put the interests of their people before their own personal interests. Enough, now it is the time for all Albanian political leaders to unite, work together and transform the unpleasant current situation to a better situation. It’s sad to see our people suffer daily as a result of current policies, poor governance and corrupt programs of our current political actors. Usually, the voice of the people transforms everything. If they don’t change their course of actions, I predict that the younger Albanian generation will rise up and create a new movement. History has shown that youth is the key force in transforming every system for the sake of democracy!
-In a world with so many problems, how to achieve a balance between the needs of our own individuality and our responsibilities to others?
We, as human being have a right to live and pursue life and goals without interference from other individuals, by creating our unique individuality, by creating the family, the community, country, state, and society in which we live, work and contribute. So being peaceful and responsible in society are the duties and obligations of each individual that makes up this community. Peace starts from each of us as individual by doing what is necessary for the better of our community. We all have an obligation to our future generations to make the community and the world we live a better place than we found it. Let’s do it! We can strike a balance between our needs and our responsibilities by working together to address injustices, change directions, and pursue benefits for the common good of the humanity. It starts from each of us!
-How do you balance your life between your career, studies, books, academic engagement, and lobbying for Albanian National issues?
I can say that I balance my life by focusing my attention on things that I have complete control. Such as; spending time with my two sons, writing or painting, do yoga and foremost through my hobby which is fashion design, because when I go to my sewing machine and create my wardrobe, I really forget any stress that I have because I am focused in creativity where I am completely myself. Professional work is a part where I feel an obligation to serve the public, community and my family, but art and fashion design is a part where I serve myself.
-For readers of this interview -Who is Dr. Elda Sinani?
Look, it is different how you see yourself and how others perceive you. I am not a perfect woman. I have my strengths and weaknesses like everyone else. But above all, I am an exemplary mother of Klint and Aaron. My sons are my motivation and my life. I see people with compassion and generosity. Usually people are drawn to me by my forgiveness, loyalty, and my understanding to them regardless of race or gender. I have a loving personality but rebellious at the same time. I am not tolerant of injustices. I am responsible, pay attention to detail, without bias, and am adaptable in every situation. My mission in this world is to serve everyone in need, and this is shown by my continued work against discrimination. Advancing human rights and especially the rights of women in society is my purpose in life.
-What advice would you give yourself?
I say to myself: If you can think of an idea or dream about it you have the same potential to realize it. Believe your own instinct and do not be afraid to take risks. Never use the excuse that you cannot make or realize a dream. Never use gender, age, country as an excuse. The main advice I give myself is: Whatever life’s clashes are, do not give up, do not lose yourself, but follow your passion and you will see that you will prevail along the way. Keep the faith in almighty God, and stay focused. Everything good or bad happens for a reason.
-How would you describe your leadership style?
I am a woman of vision. My leadership style is servant leadership. I am able to articulate my goals and my vision in a way that people understand my humanitarian mission. Being positive and enthusiastic and having a willingness to serve others are the main factors of being a good leader. Usually a leader is as good as the team that surrounds him or her. Where I work we have a great team of capable, intelligent, smart and positive employees. I am surrounded by motivated people who are willing to take as much responsibility as I am.
-How a leader should motivate people?
First, by understanding what motivates people. If you as a leader are able to make your team believe in change, you’ve managed to motivate them. In my opinion a leader could use emotional intelligence, empathy and vulnerability as a tool to understand and overcome a difficult situation. The leader should serve and offer employees the opportunity to learn and improve their skills. I personally believe that I am a leader who serves others more than myself.
-A difficult moment for Elda?
One of my many difficult moments was, when for the first time I left my country for America. Also, when I found out that my father was sick and spent a long period in chemotherapy, which was another difficult moment.Look, we all face various difficulties in our lives, but how strong we stand toward these difficulties, it is important for us. Our growth and transformation depend on our ability to practice what we have learned in life, and how we face and handle another struggle. I’ve learned that no one has the right to judge me, but to accept me as I am.
-An impressive situation?
One of the most impressive situations was the moment when I graduated with Doctorate degree from Northeastern University. The moment when my two sons Klint and Aaron hugged me and said – “Mom we are so proud of you.” They were 14 years old and 10 years old. Today, I am the one who is proud of them. Klint is a first year student at the well-known University of Syracuse and Aaron is in the eighth grade, both very smart and wonderful boys. I am blessed mother where every day I feel proud of them.
-And finally, your message to all the women out there.
Always believe in yourself and your instincts. Make choices that improve your life. Don’t give up on your dreams despite obstacles and unpredictable storms. You are adorable, strong, smart, beautiful, delightful, elegant, and worth it! Contribute positively to the society where you live, because the future is not written, but it is determined by the choices you make and the opportunities that are given!
Interviewed by Raimonda Moisiu