Fighting strands Yugoslavian student here

June 29, 1992|By TaNoah V. Sterling | TaNoah V. Sterling,Staff Writer

The fighting in Sarajevo has destroyed her home, and now Naida Zecevic is fighting time to stay in America.

Naida is an 18-year-old exchange student from the country that used to be Yugoslavia. She traveled to Baltimore in August through the American Intercultural Student Exchange program to complete high school and to experience life in the United States.

Since then, civil war has torn her country apart. Bombing has severely damaged the apartment she and her family once lived in, leaving her with no home to return to.

Naida graduated with honors from Kenwood High School in Essex just weeks ago, receiving the Silver K pin for scholarly excellence. She would like to continue her education here, but that dream also may be destroyed: Naida needs $6,000 before the end of July.

Western Maryland College in Westminster has offered Naida a full-tuition scholarship that will cover the cost of attending the school. But freshmen students must live on campus, and she can receive the scholarship only if she can pay the $6,000 housing fee.

That is money she simply doesn't have.

Naida can't get a job in this country because she is here on a student's visa. She baby-sits for neighbors to raise money for herself and hopes that somehow the money will appear. She says banks closed quickly in Sarajevo, leaving her family with little money and barely enough to eat.

The Rotary Club of Middle River is trying to help her raise the money, but time is running out. Her visa expires July 31, and she will be sent home if she hasn't enrolled in college by then.

"It's really sad watching my city all ruined in the streets that I was walking last year," says Naida, who rarely talks with her mother because phone lines are down in Sarajevo. "It's really a short period of time that all this happened. I can't believe it. Every time my mother calls me I say, thank God she's alive. It's really dangerous.

"Our apartment is pretty ruined from the grenades. My mother and brother are staying in my grandmother's apartment. They don't have water or electricity and the telephone doesn't work. Nothing works. They only have a small amount of food left. All I can do is hope that they won't get killed," she says.

Naida is not the only student from Sarajevo who has had to face worrying about her parents and raising money for school. Belma Ramadanozic, 18, went to Nebraska for her exchange. Belma says she feels uneasy that she is in the United States while her parents are caught in a war zone.

"I wanted to go back really bad," she says. "I decided to stay, but it was a really hard decision. I feel guilty sometimes. I know I can't do anything but I feel really bad. Here I have almost everything, but I don't even know if my parents have anything left in Sarajevo. It's just not right."

The University of Nebraska at Lincoln offered her a work-study scholarship, which she couldn't accept until she proved she had other funds. She said they didn't want her to be a burden on society.

The last time Belma spoke with her father was one month ago. He said he could not send any money -- food was running low.

Fortunately, one of her parents' friends in Canada sent her $2,000 so she could qualify for the scholarship. She hopes to ease her parents' minds with the news.

"I asked my grandmother two weeks ago to tell my parents I got the money to go to school so they won't worry about me," she says. "I don't want to be just another problem."

Another exchange student, Natasa Pajac, chose Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., to continue her education.

"I got a partial scholarship and there are some foundations that are giving me grants, so I might be going to college here," she says.

It will cost more than $14,000 to attend the school and although she applied for many scholarships, she does not know exactly how many she has won. Natasa is still optimistic, however. "I think I will have it by the end of the summer," she says.

Naida is not so optimistic. Other than the money she makes baby-sitting, the only source for raising the thousands of dollars she needs is the Rotary Club. The Middle River group donated $1,900 to Naida from a raffle it held several weeks ago to raise money for its general scholarship fund.

The club is hoping to raise the remaining $4,100 for her before the July deadline.

Robert Kilpatrick, past president, says he doesn't know if the Middle River chapter would be able to raise all the funds in such a short time.

"I'm scared for Naida if we don't, but it's not easy to do."

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