A survivor wants to help young people thrive

In most ways, the trauma of being unemployed doesn't compare to what Lilliana S. Didovic experienced one horrifying night in Sarajevo 19 years ago. The city was under siege, her apartment building was on fire and her family fled outdoors, where there was no escaping the mortar rounds. Until they stopped, she lay on top of her disabled son, 3, to shield him.

"He stopped speaking," she said.

Lilliana Didovic

Her life has been challenging. "I went through the war and I went through hell with my son," she said. He has had multiple surgeries, including a liver transplant. He did begin speaking again, but sometimes goes mute for a period of time. At one point, her husband was injured on the job. She would push him in his wheelchair and he would push their son in his wheelchair.  At this point, both are unemployed.

Even so, "I am not the person who can be depressed," she said. In fact, all of her experiences contribute to her deep desire to help others, particularly young people.

In Sarajevo, Didovic worked as a city planner, working particularly on planning for the XIV Olympic Winter games in Sarajevo in 1984. But after her family gained political asylum and eventually citizenship, she spent her time working at the Overbrook School for the Blind, where her son, who has many special needs, attended school. While there, she built up the school's library, acted as office manager for the international program and worked with the students. When her son graduated in 2009, her job ended. 

Her experience at the school changed her focus and prompted her to pursue of master's degree in psychology. "I really want to help people. It would be a big honor in my life, if I could help a young person change his life. I will help anybody, but my goal is to help young people, because their whole life is ahead of them."

The problem, she said, is because she went directly into a master's program instead of coming up through an undergraduate program, she doesn't have any direct experience -- other than what she has gained trying to help her son. "Every employer wants paid experience," she said.  "I tell them I have heart experience."

Throughout, painting has been a source of strength for Didovic, who lives in Overbrook. Her painting of Betsy Ross' house hangs in Mayor Nutter's office. A show of her paintings concluded Aug. 2 at Gallery Trust in Old City. Her favorite subject is Philadelphia. "I want to paint Philadelphia because this city saved my son's life, several times, so I want to say, `Thank you Philadelphia.'" 

Update: As of December, 2011, Didovic is still looking for work. 


  • Lilliana S. Didovic
  • Hometown: Philadelphia.
  • Profession: Psychologist, city planner, librarian, artist.
  • Experience: Worked as city planner in Sarajevo, set up computerized Follet library system and cataloged 15,000 books, serves on boards of art organizations. Fluent in English, Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian, conversant in Slovenian, Macedonian, Russian and Bulgarian.
  • Education: Chicago School of Professional Psychology - master's degree, specializing in child and adolescent psychology; University of Sarajevo - bachelor's degree in marketing and business administration. North American Correspondence Schools - diploma in medical/dental assistant.
  • E-mail address: gordan89@msn.com
  • Lilliana Didovic's website
  • Lilliana Didovic's resume
  • Lilliana Didovic's LinkedIn profile


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The Inquirer is not endorsing this individual as a job candidate; potential employers should do their own background checks.

Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or jvonbergen@phillynews.com.