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Monday, June 5, 2000



Press release photo
Linda "Fritz" McKenzie brings joy to a girl at a Croatian summer
camp run by the Global Children's Organization, founded by
former Kailua resident Judith Jenya.

Isle woman heals
Balkan children's
memories of war

Linda McKenzie of Mililani
spends summers in Croatia as a
counselor at a camp for
traumatized youngsters

By Leila Fujimori


LINDA "Fritz" McKenzie has seen the effect of war on the faces of children like Sefika, a Bosnian girl, who watched her brother being taken away by Serbs.

At a summer camp in Croatia, Sefika, a Muslim from Srebrenica, where a massacre occurred in 1995, was one of the most withdrawn children McKenzie had seen, speaking only to one woman and refusing to participate in activities.

One evening, at the camp's nightly disco, McKenzie dragged her onto the dance floor. To everyone's astonishment, Sefika danced.

Sefika opened up to people, took swimming lessons and danced every night after that. "This kid was like a miracle," McKenzie said.

Lending a hand in the transformation of youngsters like Sefika has kept McKenzie, a Mililani resident, traveling back to Croatia almost every summer since 1993 to serve as camp counselor to about 100 Bosnian, Croatian and Kosovar children traumatized by war. She returns this month.

"They have no memories," McKenzie said, at least not pleasant ones. So she and other volunteers transport the children from orphanages and refugee camps to Badija, an island in the Adriatic Sea, to heal -- and to create some happy memories.

Press release photo
Through activities such as swimming, drama, sports and arts and crafts,
children of Srebrenica will have their sullen expressions transformed
into happy ones by the end of the two-week camp, which unites
youngsters of all ethnic groups in the former Yugoslavia.

Through activities such as swimming, drama, sports and arts and crafts, the children's sullen expressions are transformed into happy ones by the end of the two-week camp.

Campers, who average between 10 and 14 years of age, receive Polaroid cameras to instantly record smiles and fond memories.

The camp is the brainchild of Judith Jenya, a former Kailua family law attorney, whom McKenzie met while the two were in law school.

From the first camp sprang the Global Children's Organization, now based in Los Angeles, where Jenya now lives.

But in the early years, the organization was supported mainly by Hawaii residents. McKenzie, a healthcare consultant who manages her husband's medical office, is the remaining Hawaii resident of the original group that traveled to the Balkans.

The organization tries to break war's divisiveness by uniting children of all ethnic groups in the former Yugoslavia. For the first time, Kosovo children will attend this year.

IN-COUNTRY counselors, many of whom are former campers, serve as translators. But often an American counselor and a child who speaks no English develop a special bond.

That happened with McKenzie and 7-year-old Antonia. When camp ended, someone translated that McKenzie would accompany the children home to Bosnia. Antonia burst into tears.

"She's crying because she loves you so much," the translator explained.

To the girl's delight, McKenzie visited the orphanage where Antonia cares for babies and has lived since age 2 with brother Tomislav.

"I'd just give anything in the world to bring them home with me," said McKenzie, an adoptive parent.

Though few Hawaii residents make the trip, the aloha spirit continues to flow to Croatia. Campers carry on the tradition of "Hawaii night," donning leis and dancing hula. And Hawaii donations continue.

McKenzie spends $8,000 each trip, which includes sponsoring a child ($480) and a donation. But what she receives from the experience outweighs her contribution, she said.

"I'm the one that's blessed," McKenzie said. And she has a half-dozen photo albums full of memories to prove it.

For more information, visit or call 623-8817.

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