Charles and Sue Young Award Winner Works with War-Traumatized Children in Croatia
Angela Mazer spent half a year each in Switzerland and the Balkans, studying refugees and working with them. She spends her summers counseling war-traumatized children in Croatia.
Published: Thursday, March 04, 2004
UCLA Senior Angela Mazer spent the 2002-2003 academic year abroad, half spent in Geneva, Switzerland, where she worked with the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and did research on the design of refugee camps, and the other half in Zagreb, Croatia, where she took part in a program on "The Balkans: Women and Democratization." This was not her first time in Croatia. Mazer has spent the last five summers as a camp counselor in the Balkan nation where she takes part in a program for war-traumatized children, seeking to create bonds between Croatian Catholic, Serbian Orthodox, and Bosnian Muslim children in a land where their parents have been immersed in bloody civil wars and massacres since the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991. She is also working on an Honors thesis at UCLA on youth in post-conflict society. For this and other precocious achievements she has been named as a recipient of the Charles and Sue Young Award for outstanding academic achievement, community service, and research.
Angela is a participant in the UCLA undergraduate Honors Program and is an International Development Studies major, one of the International Institute's interdepartmental degree programs. At 21, her whole life has been touched by internationalism. She was born in Boston to an American father and Swiss mother. Her family moved to Switzerland when she was a toddler and she spent her first five years there -- and still speaks fluent Swiss German. At five they moved to Salt Lake City, where she grew up feeling isolated and a little out of place.
A Quarter of the Children Had Lost their Fathers
Then, at seventeen, she got a job as a camp counselor at UCLA's Unicamp, for children at or below the poverty line. That same summer she became involved with the Los Angeles-based Global Children's Organization, and when Unicamp was over she went for the first time to serve as a camp counselor in one of their children's camps in Croatia. Children who attend these camps now live in orphanages, refugee camps, recently destroyed homes, and collective centers. She has gone back every summer for five years. "They bring kids together who normally don't meet kids of a different background," she says. There are usually about 100 children in a summer session, half of them Bosnian Muslims and the other half divided between Croatian Catholics and Orthodox Serbs. "Part of the camp is to spend two weeks on an island to make friends." A lot of the Muslim kids come from Srebrenica where the massacre of some 8,000 Muslims by Serb forces took place in 1995. "A quarter of the kids at the summer camp lost their fathers."
In 2003 the Global Children's Organization camp in Croatia had 148 children, from Bihac, Gorazde, both sides of Mostar, Sarajevo, Srebrenica, Tusla in the Bosnian Federation as well as Serbian children and volunteers from Banja Luka in the Republika Srpska. Mazer has raised her own funding to go back to Croatia each year, giving slide shows about the camp in Salt Lake City and sending out funding appeals.
Two years ago Angela's sister came to Croatia with her to work at the camp, and last summer her mother joined her there as a volunteer, to better understand her daughter's strong commitment to this work. They were both interviewed on the Today Show, which sent cameramen to the camp for one of their episodes.
Angela Mazer's trips to Geneva and Croatia in 2002-03 were part of two programs on international organizations and social justice sponsored by the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont. "While I was based at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees I went and observed all the UN organizations in the city and how they work: the International Labor Organization, the Red Cross, the World Health Organization, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. I also did an internship with an NGO, the Hague Appeal for Peace. I was interested in how they interact, and I was studying sustainable development."
The Ecology of Refugee Camps
I asked how sustainable development fit in with the question of refugees and children. "It's because of the refugee camps," she replied. "Some of the camps are huge and last for decades, like in Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi. The land is overused. It was never submitted to such high density populations before. Sanitation is a nightmare. There is an effort to find a way to plan sustainable refugee camps. This is a problem in northern Kenya and the Sudan also."
From Geneva, Angela Mazer went on to Dubrovnik to take part the second School for International Training program. This fit in closely with her long experience with the Global Children's Organization camps in that country. "I got to get around to a lot of the Croatian cities, as well as Serbia and parts of Bosnia. I went to Mostar." Mazer is fairly fluent by now in Serbo-Croatian. She plans to go back to Bosnia for a year after she graduates from UCLA this June. "I have many friends, in Novi Sad in Serbia, and in Sarajevo, in Bosnia," she said.
Mazer maintains her international ties when she is home in Salt Lake City. Her mother is the head of the Swiss Consulate there, and Angela has many friends among the 10,000 Bosnian refugees who now live in the city.
She is equally at home in her adopted country. Mazer was in Croatia during the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Local students held demonstrations in front of the American Embassy, and Embassy personnel met with American youth and warned them to keep a low profile and stay out of the protests. Mazer rejected this advice and went out on the picket lines with her Croatian friends. She visited Belgrade a week after the murder of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in March 2003, during the ensuing state of emergency. "There were soldiers on every corner wearing masks and carrying machine guns. It was a little scary. We visited the TV station that NATO bombed in 1999. They thought it was empty but they killed 16 people." This was a famous incident during the NATO bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo war. Amnesty International at the time declared the bombing of the state TV station a war crime.
Other experiences in the Balkans included meeting the wife of the prime minister of Croatia ("She spoke to our group frequently"), going to observe the parliament, and attending a concert by the African American rap group Wu Tang Clan on tour in Zagreb ("The Croatian youth knew all the words!"). And she loves Bosnian coffee ("thick and sweet, Turkish style.")
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The Charles and Sue Young Award consists of $5,000 toward UCLA tuition and includes dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel. It is given annually to three graduate students and 3 undergraduates.