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Virginia Tech alumna turns to child activism after escaping poverty to pursue education

Olivera Jankovska refugees

Alumna Olivera Jankovska, center, plays an educational game with refugee children at a Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refugees camp.

Growing up in small-town Macedonia during, and after, its secession from Yugoslavia, Virginia Tech alumna Olivera Jankovska did not have access to higher education until she connected with a Peace Corps volunteer who opened her eyes to scholarship opportunities abroad.

Jankovska’s mother later helped her escape from their town in the middle of the night to pursue an associate degree at a private Greek university that had offered her a full ride. Two years later, she left Greece with a degree, the title of valedictorian, and a scholarship to the University of Arkansas to study agricultural business.

“My whole life has been farming,” said Jankovska, a 2011 Virginia Tech alumna. “My parents’ only income was farming so I’ve learned to grow and understand and have a passion for that field for a really long time. I decided to pursue agricultural economics to see if I could help people around the world, focusing on international development within that field.”

It was that passion that brought Jankovska to the Virginia Tech Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences as a graduate student to study international development and trade after completing her bachelor’s degree.

“I always knew that for me to do any sort of international development work – whether it’s with children, in agriculture, or income inequality, whatever it is – you still need to understand economics and how international development actually works,” Jankovska said.

And her Virginia Tech education provided just that. She graduated a “proud Hokie” with a master’s degree in applied economic management and fully embracing Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).

“I grew up in a divided community. Seeing everyone at Virginia Tech so close together, just like a family, was really inspiring,” said Jankovska, who grew up in an ethnically split Macedonian-Roma region.

Today, Jankovska helps to build communities and to champion children’s causes, much like the Peace Corps volunteer who came to her own country and helped her follow her passions and talents.

“My main passion is to help serve others who are underprivileged and who don’t have the opportunities to progress because of income or resource-access inequalities, and children are one of the most vulnerable groups,” said Jankovska. “I know how hard it was to think about changing my lifestyle and getting out of poverty. It’s not possible to think beyond what’s tomorrow when you’re a child.”

As a UNICEF Global Citizen Fellow, Jankovska works with faith-based organizations, academic communities, independent volunteers, political appointees, and other advocates, providing education and resources on topics that include public health, immunizations, and child equality. In this role, Jankovska encourages local communities to take action for children, igniting worldwide efforts for child empowerment.

It’s a role that lets her blend her unique background and her passions for international development, service to underprivileged communities, empowering children, and education.

She received the 2017 President’s Volunteer Service Award for her efforts and continues to pursue opportunities that strengthen communities and champion children’s rights.

Jankovska said, “I want international development to be at the forefront, and I think the only way we can do that is to have more people dedicated to serving.”

 
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