IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Helping kids caught in the crossfire of war

Volunteers can spend vacation time helping children who've lost their parents due to brutal realities of war. "Today" special correspondent Summer Sanders reports.
/ Source: TODAY

In the 1990s a series of wars rocked the former Yugoslavia. As the country broke apart, so did many families there. Children were left without parents, sent to orphanages or refugee camps. Every summer since 1993, the Global Children's Organization has hosted a camp for these kids — a place to escape, even if just for a couple of weeks.

Even though the shooting has stopped, the pain remains.

“The trauma of war continues and these children in Croatia and Bosnia and Serbia are still suffering the effects from displacement, unemployment, loss of family members,” says camp director Fred Tanenbaum.

It's the feeling of family, camp officials and volunteers try to give these kids.

“They're wonderful and their so receptive. It's really life forming, especially for the young American volunteers. They get to work with the in-country volunteers and create friendships that last forever,” says Tanenbaum.

Founded in 1992 by the Global Children's Organization, this two-week camp plays host to kids varying in ethnic and religious backgrounds — many refugees and orphans. They come together on one little island in the Adriatic sea — Badija.

Judith Jenya is the founder of Global Children’s Organization, “Here they get a chance to dispel some of their stereotypes and deal with the fact that, oh this is a Serb and I'm a Muslim and I'm a Muslim and wow we're practically the same and we speak the same language. So it gives new choices and new ways of thinking that hopefully will carry forward,” she explains.

The volunteers range in age from 17 to 70. They come from all over: from Cape Town, South Africa to Salt Lake City, Utah. That's where 21-year-old Angela Mazer is from. This is her fifth time volunteering at camp Badija.

"I came when I was 17, like gonna be a senior in high school and had no concept of what had occurred here,” says Mazer.

So much so, Angela has now made her experience a permanent part of her life, "I'm majoring in international development and focusing on this region. I really wanted to learn more," she says.

She also learned the language.

Angela wanted her family to learn more too. That's why she asked her mom, Marianne, to join her.

"She really loves this area  so I wanted to know with what she's falling in love with. And I understand why," says Angela’s mom.

"I was really excited that she could come and we could do this together. And it's so much less alienating when you go with someone from home. And I can reminisce about things I think that will be so special," says Angela.

Spencer, Matt and Amanda Rudey are siblings from New York. They also made this trip a family affair.

“Well this is actually my fourth summer here. And I guess after talking about it for so many years, these guys decided to join me,” says Spencer.

“He told us how beautiful it was here and how great the kids are, which they are. They're absolutely fantastic. They love to play and have a good time,” explains Matt.

“Yeah, it's fun just to hang out. We don't get to all three of us spend that much time together, so it's fun,” says Amanda.

In fact, it's hard to tell who has more fun at this camp — the volunteers or the kids.

A typical day for these campers includes arts and crafts, swimming, lunch, some more swimming and ending with a themed party — like Hawaii night. They even take field trips to neighboring islands like Korcula, for a special treat.

Eighteen year-old Nihad is from Tuzla, Bosnia. Six years ago he was a camper. Today, he's an in-country volunteer,Nobody enjoyed the war. And coming here and uh seeing all these people care about the people that were influenced by war was a really amazing thing.”

The relationship between volunteer and camper is a special one. When Nihad was a camper, a volunteer helped pay for his continuing education. This is one of those trips where you can get so much more than you give.