By Judith Jenya
The following is an excerpt from Judith’s compelling story on the history of GCO. The full story is currently being published. We’ll update you on the story later.
It is April 1993, I am in a refugee camp in Split, Croatia, in what had been Yugoslavia, looking at a small blond girl with sorrowful blue eyes who is staring disconsolately at the floor. I have learned a few words of Serbo-Croatian and ask her, “Kako se zoves?” ” What is your name?” In a quiet weary voice she answers,”Nada”. Suddenly I am flooded with memories that are nearly fifty years old.
It is 1948, a dark-eyed, dark-haired girl, much smaller than me, with deep circles under her eyes, a sad smile on her face is thrust forward to meet me. “This is Nada:,” my father says. “She is going to share your bed for awhile. Since I have just graduated to a real bed and share a small room with my sister, I am really annoyed that I am not being asked. I say to my father. “What kind of name is Nada?” Many of the Mexican kids in my neighborhood speak Spanish and I know that in Spanish, Nada means “nothing.” He answers, “In her language, Nada means hope.”
Now as I look through my tears at the little refugee girl in front of me, I realize that my childhood meeting with the earlier Nada was a first step on my lifelong journey and mission of bringing hope to people caught in war and intolerance. I reach out my hand and give her a smile. I know that hope is the one thing that my fledgling organization, Global Children’s Organization, and I can offer children who once again are the youngest and saddest victims of genocide in Europe.
Leaving the stunning Dalmatian coast and looking at the jewel like islands I think, “We are all like Islands, apart from each other but living in the world together, sharing the same earth, oceans, and the same need and desire to be loved and valued. The thought keeps running through my mind,” They have lost their childhoods, they need a respite from war.” Why not do a summer camp, and call it “Island to Island”? As a child I loved to go to camp and still remember the songs I learned and the friends I made.
How much more memorable a camp experience would be for children who have lost everything. On my long flight home, I reflect on the beliefs I so strongly hold that each of us must repair the shattered fragments of the world and try to make it whole with caring compassionate action. Then I recall the compelling words of Rabbi Hillel, “If not now? When?” I know that I have been called, that I must answer the call and that acting just as one person, I can make a difference for children in this war.
I share my bed, home, money, heart, soul, spirit, energy, and my love with many children. My parents’ early example of doing one’s part to “mend the world” has taken firm roots in me. My life is filled with purpose, creativity, wonder, hard work, challenge, adventure, joy, and love. Hundreds of volunteers, including my son, Rashi, work with me in the Balkans and Ireland. The volunteers, of all ages, nationalities, professions and backgrounds, are compassionate, caring people who experience the personal transformation and fulfillment that comes from direct service and truly sharing of one’s self with another human being. They share my passion, vision and the excitement of personally making a difference in the world, one child at a time.