Sarajevo student gets refuge here People contribute to postpone her return to war zone.

July 29, 1992|By Edward L. Heard Jr. | Edward L. Heard Jr.,Staff Writer

Naida Zecevic's future is a bit less uncertain today.

For a while, it looked as though the high school exchange student from what was once known as Yugoslavia would be heading back to her war-torn country once her visa expired Friday.

But private and personal contributions have helped her secure student residency in the United States and have prolonged her stay away from a country where fierce battle is now part of daily life.

The recipient of a full-tuition scholarship from Western Maryland College in Westminster, the 18-year-old from Sarajevo has rounded up the extra $6,000 she needs for room and board, books and a school medical insurance policy.

"It was a lot of work," Ms. Zecevic said from her newly found Essex community where she has lived with a host family through the American Intercultural Student Exchange program since last August. "But it was really worth it.

"I was really in a desperate situation. I would have done anything."

Ms. Zecevic nearly was finished with her senior year at Kenwood High School when her family told her in April that the fighting had moved south from Croatia and reached the Sarajevo republic.

Her mother, a doctor, calls her at the Dorsey Avenue residence about twice a month, when she gets a rare free moment from treating Sarajevo's wounded.

The honors student had been looking forward to returning to Sarajevo to see her friends. The ongoing turmoil, however, convinced her to continue to study in America after graduation.

But banks in Sarajevo closed and her mother was not able to send her money to supplement the college scholarship she had been offered.

"I couldn't concentrate; I was really worried," she recalled. "For about a month, my family couldn't reach me. I didn't know what to do.

"It was on my mind all day. Everything I have and everybody in my family is there. There wasn't any solution."

After speaking on TV and radio stations, word of her situation spread. Help arrived just in time.

The Middle River Rotary Club raised $1,900 for Ms. Zecevic with raffled Orioles tickets. Other contributions included donations from the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., Dundalk and Towson Towne Rotary clubs, and several churches and private groups.

The 1991-1992 Kenwood High graduating class pledged $250 toward her college education. Ms. Zecevic will enter college as a freshman at the end of August, majoring in mathematics and chemistry.

"Everything she had is gone," said Carolee Yannacci, Ms. Zecevic's American hostess and a member of the Middle River Rotary Club. That's why we wanted to help.

"She would have had to go back to Europe with nothing. It was really scary to think she had to do that."

The $13,130 tuition scholarship can be renewed if Ms. Zecevic keeps up her good grades. But she may face the same desperate situation

next year if banks in Sarajevo remain closed and her mother can't send her money.

Yesterday, Ms. Zecevic sat in a neighbor's house, baby-sitting two children. She said if she were home, she'd likely be sitting in the house with her grandmother, waiting for the fighting to end.

"It's very dangerous," Ms. Zecevic said. "You can get killed by grenades and snipers."

Ms. Zecevic shared a six-bedroom apartment with her mother and brother, 23, back home. She said the walls and windows had been damaged by the fighting. Now, her family lives with her grandmother in an apartment a half-hour away on the other side of the city.

Monday, she renewed her visa, which now expires in 1995. Before then, Ms. Zecevic said she hopes the fighting in her home will have ended.

"As soon as the war is over, I will go home and see my family," she said. "Nothing is like home."

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