Reaching out to refugees from Bosnia Relief effort: A Stevens Forest Elementary School student has organized a drive to collect furniture and other household items for a Bosnian family resettling in Baltimore.

February 27, 1996|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,SUN STAFF

For fifth-grader Jonathan Richard Lyon, the war-torn region of Bosnia-Herzegovina isn't just a spot on the National Geographic map in his room -- it's the former home of a Bosnian Serb family he is helping.

The 10-year-old from east Columbia's Village of Kings Contrivance has organized a drive to collect furniture and other household items for Senad and Dzana Sadzak and their three children, refugees being resettled in Baltimore with help from Lutheran Social Services.

"I didn't know about Bosnia before," said Jonathan, a Stevens Forest Elementary School student whose work with the Sadzak family is part of his work with the school's program for gifted and talented students. "Now I know where it is."

His project -- which will be presented at the school's enrichment fair on May 23 along with projects by 79 other students -- was inspired by the December visit of a Bosnian refugee to Jonathan's family synagogue, the Columbia Jewish Congregation.

"What he's doing here is certainly admirable and honorable," said Tom Stabile, who teaches in the program for gifted students at Stevens Forest Elementary.

Although the projects in the gifted and talented program are not graded, they can be quite involved, requiring students to choose a problem and offer a solution.

Jonathan chose as his problem how the war is killing Bosnians; as his solution, he chose to help the Sadzak family, who he learned about through the refugee who spoke at his synagogue.

To understand Bosnia, Jonathan visited the library to research the war, which has been going on for almost four years and pits the Serbs, Croats and Muslims against each other. Thousands have been killed in the crumbled Eastern European nation.

Prepared with a pad, pen and tape recorder -- and with the help of the Bosnian refugee who introduced them -- Jonathan interviewed the Sadzak family on Feb. 11 at their new home in Baltimore.

The family said they fled the Bosnian city of Mostar after their home was burned down.

The mother and three children, ranging in age from 2 to 11, spent four years in a Croatian refugee camp, where women in the camp tried to establish a makeshift school.

Mr. Sadzak, a factory worker, was sent to a prison camp.

Jonathan said life for his Bosnian peers wasn't easy. The camps were crowded, and many people were sick. Children fell behind in schooling.

"The 11-year-old told me here is better," said Jonathan. "I feel bad for them. I'm glad I'm not living there."

Eventually, when the warring sides exchanged prisoners, Mr. Sadzak was reunited with his family in Croatia.

In November, the family applied for a United Nations refugee program and came to the United States.

"They just brought the clothes on their back, maybe a bag," said David Lyon, Jonathan's father.

The Washington office of Lutheran Social Services provided the family temporary shelter in Washington until they found a rowhouse for rent in Baltimore.

The organization also gave the family access to food stamps and Medicare. Volunteers are helping the parents to find jobs.

Each year the Lutheran organization resettles 400 refugee families through its Refugee Resettlement Program, which started in 1975 to help Vietnamese refugees.

"The only way we can do what we do is because of the community, people like Jonathan," said Kathryn Hay, a community outreach coordinator for the Lutheran group.

To help the Bosnian children -- who now attend Baltimore public schools -- learn English, Jonathan and his parents gave them English books.

Jill Lyon, Jonathan's mother, said her son has learned some important lessons through the project.

"I think he's learned more about parts of the world that sometimes it's not easy to talk about with the children," she said. "It's very important for children to know how lucky they are here, that one person here can make a difference."

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