ZORA: How I’m Helping Orphans In Serbia

July 21, 2003

Article from Us Weekly magazine

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The Joe Millionaire star vowed to use her big bucks prize to do good. Now in an Us exclusive, she explains how she stayed true to her word.

Her experience on reality TV didn’t bring true love – she and Evan “Joe Millionaire” Marriott didn’t even make it out of the starting gate – but Zora Sabrina Andrich returned to Lambertville, New Jersey, with some baubles for her jewelry box, 500 grand and the opportunity to make a difference. Her dream? To secure a better life for the people of war-ravaged Serbia (one of six republics that made up the former Yugoslavia). Zora’s mother – astrologer Eujka Andrich of Boulder, Colorado – emigrated from Serbia in 1966, and dozens of Zora’s family members still live there in poverty. To help, the 30-year-old elder-care worker says she’s contributed “a considerable amount” of her half-million-dollar prize to aid both relatives and strangers – including some of the 9,000 or so children left orphaned by the centuries-old civil war. Now, Zora tells Us reporter Lara Cohen about one stop on her emotional 16-day journey to visit her roots.

Family Affair

On May 21, my mother and I departed on the nine-and-a-half-hour flight to Belgrade, Serbia. One of our ultimate destinations was an orphanage called the Vera Blagojevic Home for Children, in the village of Banja Koviljaca. I had a personal stake in visiting because my own mother lost both parents when she was just 12. They died within six months of each other – her father of kidney failure and her mother of a heart attack – and my aunt Milena, then only 19, raised her four younger siblings in a two-room house with dirt floors, and meals that consisted of garlic broth (garlic crushed in warm water) and stale bread. Just one look at these orphans made me want so much more for them.

Toys For Tots

I brought toys supplied by Fisher-Price, Media for Humanity (a nonprofit group seeking to raise awareness of children’s health and education issues) – and my mom. One girl really made an impression: I had given her a teddy bear, and she closed her eyes and caressed her face with its fuzzy paw. It was almost as if she were comforting herself. This sight will stay with me for a long time to come.

In talking to the children, I kept hearing the same thing over and over, yet I couldn’t quite make it out – I’m not fluent in Serbo-Croatian. I asked the counselor to translate what they were saying, “Are you here to take me home?” she explained. My heart sank as my eyes welled with tears. These kids were all on their best behavior, thinking I was going to adopt one of them.

The counselor explained how the children had come to be there: One young girl had been left alone on the sidewalk. Another boy’s parents had been killed in a fire. Each story differed but was equally painful to hear. And as sad as I was to see these children orphaned at such a young age, it was almost more difficult to see the teenagers. There was a look in their eyes – like they knew they would never be considered for adoption. I couldn’t tell if they were looking forward to turning 18, the age when they would be required to leave, or if they were dreading entering a world without parents or direction. It was an emotionally draining experience.

There are so many wonderful opportunities for adoption in Serbia. I’ve been checking into setting up my own charity with the orphanage directly, and I would passionately encourage couples who want to adopt to look in this part of the world. I was only scheduled to make one visit to this particular orphanage, but I ended up making three, I wanted to take each and every child home on the spot! They deserve a chance at happiness.

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