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Kids bring change for Kosovo

June 13, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Kosovars forced to flee their homes may not be on the minds of most children, but Salem Avenue Elementary School students raised money for the refugees.

"It just sort of came to us," said Kim Gray, a fourth-grader whose Project Challenge group put together a plan to collect change. The class set a fund-raising goal of $240 but amassed more than $460 in two weeks.

"A lot of our families don't have a lot of money themselves," said Alan Zube, the group's teacher. "It's a testament to them that even though they don't have a lot, they were willing to give what they have."

Zube used a Web site to teach the children about the conflict in Kosovo, a Maryland-sized province in the Yugoslavian republic of Serbia. It has a population of about 2 million residents, 90 percent of whom are ethnic Albanians.

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The other 10 percent are Serbs and the province is under Serbian rule. Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic directed the expulsion of the ethnic Albanians, forcing out men, women and children.

The plight of the refugees, many of them suffering after walking long distances without food or shelter, caught the attention of Salem Avenue's kids.

They read a "Time Magazine for Kids" article on the Internet and saw images like outstretched hands reaching for bread.

"They were really touched," said Zube. "The kids automatically thought maybe we could do something." They downloaded pictures of Kosovar children and stuck them to jugs distributed in the classrooms.

After a morning announcement about the "Change for Kosovo Families" campaign, the dimes and nickles started coming. The $240 goal is equal to an average of about 50 cents per student, but they raised closer to $1 per child, according to Zube.

"They were really anxious to count it," he said.

After two weeks, the jugs were practically full. Farmers and Merchants Bank agreed to tally up the mostly metal money and the children were surprised to discover the total was $465, almost double their goal.

The bank prepared a check for the American Red Cross, which has a refugees' relief fund. A peace plan is now under way and NATO troops are helping the refugees return.

Whether Milosevic, recently indicted for war crimes, abides by his agreement remains to be seen. On this side of the Atlantic, teachers and students contibuted their own positive change.

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