Teacher finds summer adventure has lasting effect

NEIGHBORS

July 28, 1999|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AS AN eighth-grade math teacher at Harper's Choice Middle School, it's unlikely that Brad Barth will be asked to write an essay on what he did over summer vacation. But if he did get the assignment, he'd have the most unusual tales to tell. On June 22, one week after school was dismissed for the summer, Barth boarded a plane for Skopje, Macedonia, to aid refugees fleeing the conflict in Kosovo.

Barth's adventure began as he read a church bulletin at St. John's United Methodist- Presbyterian Church, which meets at Wilde Lake Interfaith Center. The bulletin contained a request for donations of blankets to be sent to the refugees. Barth says he thought to himself, "I can do better than that."

Returning to their Swansfield home after church, Barth told his wife, Leigh, and children Nina, 17, and Eddie, 10, that he wanted to go to Macedonia to help with refugee relief efforts. "This is the first time that he felt God wanted him to do something," Leigh Barth says.

FOR THE RECORD - Because of an editing error, a man in a photograph in Heather Tepe's Neighbors column was misidentified as Brad Barth in the caption in yesterday's Howard edition of The Sun. The name of the volunteer in the photo is unknown.
The Sun regrets the error.

After hours of researching refugee relief efforts on the Internet, Barth contacted a group called Internet Friends. The group had information on relief organizations in Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania. Internet Friends put him in contact with the Mother Tereza Humanitarian Organization in Macedonia.

Once he identified an organization to work with, Barth began raising funds for the relief effort. He sent letters to more than 100 friends, relatives and members of the community. The letter explained that he and his wife would cover his personal travel and living expenses but funds were needed to provide food, clothing and shelter for the refugees.

The Barths raised more than $9,000, which was donated to the Mother Tereza Humanitarian Organization. Inspired by his father's example, Eddie decided to send his collection of stuffed animals to Macedonia with his dad for distribution to refugee children.

Barth visited a refugee camp on his first day in Macedonia. In a letter to those who contributed money for the relief effort, he described the living conditions there: " rows of tents for as far as I could see, on ground devoid of grass; no showers; bathroom latrines that looked like voting booths with buckets in them; they would be emptied onto the ground. I was struck much more by the looks on the faces of the people. The vacant stares, the utter desolation at the loss of loved ones, the incomprehensibility of losing home and all possessions -- the wounded souls were etched indelibly in my mind."

While in Macedonia, Barth kept his family updated on his activities through e-mail. On June 27, he wrote, "I found a lumber yard but what good is wood if you are starving, so ALL of the money will go to food. I went to the warehouse where they give stuff out today and helped set up for the distribution tomorrow. They open the door 3 days per week. A bunch of people came by looking for food but were told no. A lady who escaped Kosovo with two young children and whose husband was murdered by the Serbs came looking for jackets for a return home. I went looking for her after a short time to go try to buy the jackets in the market (I am a sucker for kids) but she was gone. I felt real bad about that."

A message from June 29 reads, "I worked at the Mother Tereza warehouse from 9 till about 3: 30. This is the warehouse where they give clothing and food to the poor refugees. It was real depressing to see the people lined up when we arrived to get clothing. On the way in I gave a little girl Eddie's pink elephant. She gave me a BIG smile. GOOD JOB EDDIE. While working, the family that came by yesterday came in looking for clothing and food for their return to Kosovo. I noticed the kids' shoes did not fit. I found out that the shoes were borrowed and there were no free used ones. So, I offered to buy them new ones."

On their way to the shoe store, the little boy, about 9 years old, asked if he could hold Barth's hand. "He held my hand all the way over and all the way back. That was neat," Barth says.

He remembers the excitement in the little girl's eyes as she scanned the colorful array of shoes for sale in the store. He wrote, "When we returned, the mom started to tear up and it was pretty emotional."

On Wednesday, June 30, Barth wrote, "Today I was introduced to other Kosovo families. The one that sticks in my mind the most is a mom and dad. Their two boys are gone. One was murdered and the other is hopefully in a Serb jail. They fear he too was shot. The thing that will stick with me forever in my life is the lost look in the mother's face. A "What do I have to live for" look. I could not take a picture of that face with a camera. It just would not be right. Yet another bad sign of the war. I had a sick feeling inside."

Barth returned to Columbia on July 8. He says his experience in Macedonia made a lasting impression. "It makes you appreciate everything you have here. This is the greatest country in the world," he says.

Most people would take a breather after an adventure like Barth's. But last weekend, Brad and daughter Nina joined 85 people from their church and St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Community on a trip to Raleigh County, W.Va.

The group is participating in the Appalachia Service Project. They will make repairs -- building bathrooms, putting on new roofs and installing new floors -- in the homes of economically disadvantaged people in Appalachia.

Barth hopes his service to others will set an example for his children and the kids he teaches. "Actions speak louder than words," he says.

"I hope people see that and maybe they won't go to the other side of the world to help, but maybe they'll go to downtown Baltimore."

Pub Date: 7/28/99

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