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VOA's Serbo-Croatian Refugee Hotline - 2002-05-13

A VOA Snapshot - Part of the continuing coverage in this, VOA's 60th Anniversary Year

At VOA, we know our broadcasts have an impact on the people who listen. But sometimes that impact is particularly significant, and particularly personal.

In the early 1990s, war raged in Yugoslavia. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, 60 percent of the homes, half of all the schools and one-third of the hospitals were damaged or destroyed. 200,000 Bosnians lost their lives and two million became refugees.

Shortly before the conflict ended, the Voice of America's Croatian and Serbian broadcast services created a telephone hotline to help people in the war zone send messages to missing relatives and loved ones.

"We were professionally and personally proud that we could make a little difference," said Ivana Kuhar, who was among the VOA broadcasters who checked the Hotline's answering machine and put the messages on the air. "I know it was the first thing that we did in the morning, whoever would come first - and there were a lot of Bosnians in the Croatian Service," she said. "I know that people would just run and [drop] their coats and then run there to see if we had a message. They would say, Oh, we have a message! Come let's listen to the message!"

Her colleague Maya Druker says it was a very rewarding experience. "The whole idea of being able to reconnect families sitting here in Washington, just going on the microphone and having a phone and a tape," she said. "What more can you ask for?"

One listener even called back to say her message had gotten through to her missing son. "And, she was thanking us tearfully," Ms. Kuhar recalled. "We made her world happen again. That's what she said."

The success of the Serbian and Croatian hotline inspired subsequent VOA efforts to reunify families separated by conflicts in Central Africa and Albania.

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