PORTLAND – Christmas may have come and gone, but the work isn’t over for a Santa Claus from Maine.
Sgt. Scott Durst, a U.S. Army reservist with the 94th Military Police Company of Saco, played Saint Nick to a group of orphans in Bosnia last week. Now, he’s looking to help a school for handicapped children in another Bosnian town.
Durst gave out toys and winter clothing last week to a group of orphans, many of them lost their parents in the war. The toys and clothes were collected by Falmouth High School students, who mailed more than 2,000 pounds of gifts to the orphans.
“The look on their faces was overwhelming,” Durst said in an e-mail message. “I can’t tell you how much this made my Christmas, being here for these kids.”
His wife, Nancy Durst, an art teacher at Falmouth High School, organized the collection drive. All of Falmouth’s schools, several service clubs in the Portland area and the couple’s network of friends and family members chipped in. The student council at the high school donated $500 to help ship 61 boxes to Bosnia.
“It was a huge community effort,” Nancy Durst said. “It was really kids helping kids.”
Scott Durst has traveled all over the country, seeing the effects of the 1992-1995 war that orphaned the boys and girls at the Children’s Village, in the town of Turija.
U.S. reserve troops began taking part in the peacekeeping force this year. The United Nations sent peacekeepers to Bosnia in 1995.
During his travels in Bosnia, Scott Durst decided he wanted to help some of the many orphans he had seen. His wife, he said, wanted to help an entire orphanage.
The boys and girls at the Children’s Village live in groups of six with a surrogate mother in small apartments in the orphanage compound. Most of the women lost their children or husbands in the war.
Most of the children are Muslims, but others are Orthodox Christian. Their ages range from 5 to 21. Although Christmas is over, the Dursts’ efforts aren’t. They plan to use $2,200 left over from the fund-raising drive for a handicapped children’s school in a nearby town, Lukavac.
“These kids have been pushed aside and forgotten,” Durst said. “The room is about the size of a large bedroom.”
The school – actually just one room – is run by volunteers. Many of the children are mentally disabled.
Scott Durst said there are about 12 children who attend every day. The volunteers are trying to raise some money to expand the space and bring in bedridden children.
The school needs physical therapy equipment, a speech development device, a computer, a television and VCR and musical instruments.
Nancy Durst said she will start buying the equipment soon and hopes to raise money to help the school build its own building.