11 Rockland teens to offer Bosnian orphans aid, gifts

August 5, 2002

Blair Craddock, Staff of THE JOURNAL NEWS

CHESTNUT RIDGE - Eleven teens from Rockland will fly to Bosnia tonight with gifts for war orphans.

Nuni Rae, 15, talked about the trip yesterday at a picnic at the Mosque of the Jerrahi Order, which is sending the group. "It's to help them emotionally," said Nuni, who lives in Chestnut Ridge. "To go be friends with them, and help in any way we can."

Jennette Morgan, 14, bounced a basketball as she sat next to Nuni beside the mosque parking lot. The basketball, games and art supplies are gifts for children at an orphanage in Tuzla, Bosnia, Jennette said.

Dolores Gunter of Nyack, an adult leader of the trip, said the group was invited by the families of many young Bosnians brought to Rockland to keep them safe in the early 1990s, during the bloody civil war in the former Yugoslavia.

"They feel we saved their children's lives during the war," Gunter said of the families of the 156 Bosnian teens brought to Rockland in the 1990s by the Jerrahi Order mosque, working with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an 88-year-old nonsectarian organization in Upper Nyack that advocates nonviolence.

Gunter said she has been on seven "working trips" to Bosnia since the war ended in 1995. This will be the first trip for teens.

Not all the teens are Muslim. Loan Fletcher, 17, is Christian, as is Gunter.

Fletcher, a student at Nyack High School, said her pastor at Grace Episcopal Church told her about the trip.

As soon as she heard about it, Fletcher wanted to go. Partly, that was because she was in an orphanage herself in Vietnam, when she was 11 to 13 years old.

"It's a lot of fun when somebody visits and talks to you and makes you feel happy," Fletcher said. "I wanted to see if I could do anything to help."

Tosun Bayrak, the imam of the Jerrahi Mosque, said the group will be taught what the orphans' needs are when it arrives. Members are taking money to spend on whatever is needed.

"You're going to find many ordinary, everyday, necessary things that are missing," Bayrak told Gunter. He spoke of visiting an orphanage in Baghdad, and finding no milk in the refrigerator.

"Don't ask them, `Do you need it?' " Bayrak said. "They are very proud. They will say, `No, no, we are fine.' But they cannot refuse a gift."

Gunter said the teens would be taught what help they can give. On other trips, she said, she's done work that varied from teaching English to shoveling debris at a site where families hoped to rebuild ruined houses.

"We'll do work projects they suggest," Gunter said.

Alma Karuv, who came to Rockland in 1994 from Bosnia, said the trip would benefit the Rockland County children as well as the Bosnian orphans.

"We have to always think about how to raise a compassionate child," said Karuv, 36, who was an engineer and is now a full-time mother. To learn compassion, she said, children must learn to do compassionate acts.

Bayrak said the mosque hopes to sponsor annual interfaith trips to places struck by suffering, to alleviate need and teach fortunate American teens what they can do to help.

Karuv said she was glad there was a non-Muslim teen on the trip to visit the Bosnian orphans. "They need play, toys, books, love," she said. It doesn't matter if it comes from Muslims or someone else, she said. "If it comes from a synagogue or a church, it would also be a miracle."

Bayrak said it's not just religious young people who could benefit from the trips, but also teens who don't belong to any particular religion or organized group - "anybody and everybody."

"It's helping other people, but also, at the same time, giving them more education," the imam said.

Jalani Scurry, 19, of Suffern said he was looking forward to the trip. "We're just going to kind of play it by ear, and see what they want us to do."

Reach Blair Craddock at bcraddoc@thejournalnews.com or 845-578-2444.
Section: News
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