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Sanja Cooklin, a native of Croatia, is making a life and home in Northeast Iowa.

Sixth in a series of articles from our fall Inclusion magazine, highlighting diversity in the area.

JESUP — Sanja Cooklin has been through tough times.

As a young adult in her native Croatia, Cooklin lived through her country’s war for independence from Yugoslavia with her husband and young son. At points, the disintegration of society meant taking desperate measures.

“We literally ate leaves off trees for survival,” said Cooklin.

After the war ended, the family moved to New York City in 1996. It was a place in which her husband, a painter, could thrive in his art.

The move didn’t insulate them from trauma and difficulty, though. The family was there when the 9-11 terrorist attacks happened, a time in which Cooklin and her husband’s marriage was falling apart.

Following the divorce, she ended up in Ames and eventually got remarried. The couple had a daughter and a son, but it wasn’t a happy marriage.

Cooklin and the kids left, moving in 2015 to the Cedar Valley, where she had friends. They first lived in Denver and about a year ago settled in Jesup.

“Over the years I had been traumatized,” said Cooklin, 48. She refuses to get trapped in the role of victim, though.

“When I look back I think, ‘Thank you for that experience. That was an incredible teaching moment for me.’”

That resilient spirit and an openness to hearing about other people’s problems eventually led her to a career as an “empowerment coach.” Cooklin was trained in hypnotism and Emotional Freedom Technique, which she described as talk therapy combined with tapping acupuncture points on a client’s face and body.

She helps people to face fears and work on a range of issues such as diet, relationships and addiction. Among those she has helped are sexual abuse victims and war veterans.

“I help them to overcome, block fears,” Cooklin said, and make peace with their past. She encourages clients to “use your obstacles as stepping stones.”

She added, “My mission on this planet is to help lessen human suffering. My idea is that we have choices, because we can choose to get bitter or we can choose to get better.”

About a year after setting up an office in Ames, the city hired her to lead a workshop with firefighters on stress management in the workplace. “That was the moment I felt like I had arrived.”

Nowadays, Cooklin uses a home office but works remotely with most of her clients. “Just as long as I have a working phone and an internet connection, I can theoretically help anyone in the world.”

She is currently writing a book tentatively titled “Call Your Power Back: Heal Your Past and Reclaim Your Life” and has been talking to potential publishers. “The whole idea behind this book is no matter what happened to me, to you, to us that’s in the past,” said Cooklin. “Go back and make peace so that it doesn’t interfere with our present and our future.”

Cooklin isn’t letting past difficulties affect her future, and she is confident others can achieve the same results.

“I know how to connect with people, I know how to help them face their fears,” she said. “I just love what I do. I’m absolutely passionate about it.”

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Staff Writer

Education reporter for the Courier

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