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9-11, Iraq war survivors attend camp
( 2003-08-09 15:24) (Agencies)

Unfamilar food is routine at summer camp. But jet lag is not. And neither is sitting next to someone whose country invaded yours just this year.

But that's how it goes at a camp for youngsters who all lost parents to war, terrorism, earthquakes or disease.

For Wisdan H.K. al-Fadhily, the memory is fresh.

The 16-year-old from Baghdad burst into tears recalling the day in March when her father was killed in an explosion at a market. The Iraqi government said 58 civilians died and blamed a US bomb.

"It was a disaster. I'll never forget it," al-Fadhily said, hiding her face in her hands.

But it didn't take long for her to regain her composure. Hours later, as she and Hilary Strauch, whose father died in the Sept. 11 attacks, sat side-by-side in this western Japanese city.

Strauch, a freckled redhead from Avon, N.J., smiled broadly when asked if there had been any tension.

"We didn't get to talk much. But she seemed nice," said the 13-year-old, whose father worked in the World Trade Center.

It was the start of the fourth international camp hosted by Tokyo-based charity Ashinaga, which will last a week and has helped more than 60,000 children who have lost parents to disaster and disease since its founding in 1969.

Campers include three Americans, 10 Iraqis and 90 other young survivors from Afghanistan (news - web sites), Algeria, Turkey, Uganda and Japan. The program is run by more than 50 Japanese university students and other volunteer counselors.

Although their customs, language and religion differ, the children are bonded by grief: The Afghans lost parents in the war with the United States; the children from Japan, Turkey and Algeria were orphaned in earthquakes; and the Ugandan children's parents died of AIDS.

Yoshiji Hayashida, Ashinaga's director-general, said the goal is to teach the children to cope with their tragedies.

"The worst ones have lost hope," he said. "We can't predict whether all will go well. But some will leave here able to dream about a better future."

His group, funded entirely by donations, spent about $165,000 to scout out campers and pay for them to come to Japan.

Roni Robertie, a counselor from the Virginia-based Comfort Zone Camp, which assists families who lost loved ones in terror attacks, said she jumped at the chance.

"If there is ever going to be peace, it has to start at the grass-roots level, not with governments," she said.

On Thursday, campers attended an opening ceremony and then were asked to draw pictures to show how they feel. Later, they set off by ferry for Nishijima, a small island, for four days of barbecues, canoeing and playing ball.

Sajad Al-Bawy, a 6-year-old Iraqi whose soldier father was killed in April, drew a picture of a man with black hair. He said it was Saddam Hussein, Iraq's deposed dictator.

"He killed my father," he whispered to a counselor.

After the first few hours, the younger campers' shyness wore off, and they ran around with animal-shaped balloons, playing tag and other games.

Some older campers were more cautious.

Roaa Muhamed, 15, complained because there were Americans at the camp. She said she didn't like Americans because they attacked her country and killed her people.

"I wouldn't have come if I had known. I don't want to meet any Americans," she said.

Strauch had a different perspective. "I don't think all Iraqis are bad just a select few who were in power," she said.

 
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