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Three children, three futures, thanks to UMCOR

12/4/2000 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

A UMNS Feature By Cathy Farmer*

If 14-year-old Sino lived in the United States, he'd probably be spending his days in school, waiting impatiently for the bell to ring so he could hang out with the guys.

But Sino isn't an American boy. He lives outside Dushanbe, Tajikistan, a central Asian country bordering on Afghanistan and once a part of the former Soviet Union. Sino spends an hour every morning walking to the city market where he sells cigarettes, cookies and gum. He dreams of going to school, but he and his mother need his small income to survive.

Nozira, 15, was sickly as a young child and couldn't attend school, so she never learned to read or write. When the civil war in southern Tajikistan drove her family from their home, they fled to Dushanbe. But that wasn't the end of their problems; the whole family came down with typhoid.

Mirzoev was 7 years old when the civil war began. At 3 o'clock one morning, someone came to his home in the village of Kabodiyon and said, "If you want to stay alive, you must leave immediately!" That night, the women and children were sent to Dushanbe by truck. The men walked. Anyone who stayed in the village was killed. One of them was Mirzoev's grandfather.

Though Mirzoev's parents were teachers, they couldn't find work in Dushanbe. Education was important to the family, but supporting the educational needs of the three children on an income of $6 per month was almost impossible.

Three children, three lives seemingly without a prayer. But that's not the end of the story.

The United Methodist Church, through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), is helping Mirzoev, Nozira, Sino and thousands of other children learn to read, write, dance, paint and use computers.

The church is also helping the children come to grips with the horrific things they've seen and experienced growing up in a war zone.

UMCOR has established two Youth Houses in Tajikistan as well as five in Bosnia, three in Georgia and one in Rwanda. Sam Dixon, an UMCOR staff executive, said the houses are ways for the church to reach vulnerable children and youth.

"We offer therapy for traumatic experiences as well as good after-school care," Dixon explained.
"We teach journalism, art, drama, music, reading and writing, and peace building."
UMCOR has found that peace building is especially important in countries with different ethnic cultures.

"They learn they can be friends," Dixon said, holding up a poster drawn by children in a Youth House in Georgia. In large block letters, the poster declared, "We make friends with each other and we do not shoot on each other."

When Sino and his mother learned about the Youth House in Dushanbe, they hurried to get him registered. Now he works in the market in the morning and attends classes in the afternoon. He's learned to read and write, and he's studying English and computer science. Sino dreams of the day when he can stop going to the market and get a decent job.

Nozira is meeting with Youth House psychologists who are helping her adapt to the educational environment. She's also enrolled in dance, and English and Arabic language classes.

Mirzoev is studying computer science and plans to become a computer specialist.

Three children, three stories, three promising futures - thanks to United Methodists.

Donations to support this ministry can be marked for Advance Special No. 982353-7 and placed in church offering plates or sent directly to UMCOR at 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Credit-card donations can be made by calling (800) 554-8583.

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*Farmer is communications director of the United Methodist Church's Memphis Annual Conference.

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