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Teen refugee picturing her new life

Juresha Cholopray, 14, prepares to take a photo of her sister Onikel, 17, at their home in New Port Richey. At top, she walks the road in front of the home.

KATHLEEN FLYNN | Times

Juresha Cholopray, 14, prepares to take a photo of her sister Onikel, 17, at their home in New Port Richey. At top, she walks the road in front of the home.

NEW PORT RICHEY

She wants to be an actor because actors can pretend to be someone else, slip on another character and background and be it, live it and then throw it off and put on another one; clean, new, a slate swept blank.

That appeals to Juresha Cholopray, a 14-year-old Gulf High School student whose family escaped their African homeland of Liberia during the civil war. Juresha wasn't born then. She was born in Cote d'Ivoire, what Americans call the Ivory Coast, where the family lived for a time. About four years ago, the family came to the United States for a new life — her mom, dad, older brother and sister — and settled in New Port Richey.

Juresha has never been to Liberia, though she feels it through her family and calls herself a Liberian. She says she hasn't known much hardship in her own life. She remembers the Ivory Coast and wants to go back there one day. But she likes Florida and she loves the beach. The sun seems to adore Juresha; light accentuates her, radiating warmly off her long arms and legs, high cheekbones and big, white smile. She glows.

Juresha's family goes to church every Sunday and she is not afraid to talk about God.

"I'm a Christian," she says.

When bad things happen, such as war and death, Juresha believes it is the devil's work. She wants people to know that when those things happen that it's not God's fault and to not blame him, but to keep on moving and surviving and being as good and kind as you can. Dwelling does not help. Faith and her family are the most important things in her life.

A few months ago, workers through a refugee program with Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services asked Juresha to take part in a project. They gave digital cameras to her and several other refugee children in the Tampa Bay area and asked them to take pictures of what they see — so we can see life through their eyes.

Beginning Wednesday, their photos will be displayed at the Sarasota-Manatee campus of the University of South Florida. That exhibit ends Oct. 10 and organizers with the nonprofit organization are trying to find free venues in Tampa and here, in Pasco. Each child has several photos in the exhibit, though some stick out more than others.

A Cuban boy took a photo of the ocean and said the sea can be very frightening and he thinks people should travel by airplane instead of by boats.

An Albanian teenager who, at the age of 6, saw his father murdered there took a photo of his school bus, which he appreciates and depends on to get to school. He wants to be a doctor so he can help people and support his family.

A Burmese teen whose family fled to a Thai refugee camp took a photo of a playground on the beach. They didn't have playgrounds at the camp.

Juresha took photos of her church, her family and a friend who graduated from high school.

"I'm going to graduate," Juresha said. "And I'm going to college." She took a photo of a tree in a park because it looked open, the light in it and through it, dancing off the leaves, trunk gnarled and weathered but alive, the branches reaching out and up to the sky, to the heavens.

Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4609.

From There to Here: An Exhibit

Refugee children from the Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services Refugee Youth and Family Program representing eight countries, along with local foster youth, were given cameras to photograph their lives as they see them.

Juresha Cholopray, a 14-year-old student at Gulf High School in New Port Richey and a Liberian refugee, was one of them. To see and read about the other children in the Tampa Bay area involved in the photography project, go to links.tampabay.com.

The exhibit will be at the University of South Florida's Sarasota-Manatee campus, 8350 N Tamiami Trail, Wednesday through Oct. 10. Call (941) 359-4200.

Additional donated display space is needed in Pasco County and in Tampa. Contact Niki Kelly, director of refugee services, at nkelly@gcjfs.org, or call (727) 422-8425.

For information on the agency, visit www.gcjfs.org or call toll-free at 1-800-888-5066.

>>Fast Facts

Refugees in Pasco

If you know of a refugee family here who needs help, call toll-free at 1-800-888-5066 or (727) 450-7273.

Teen refugee picturing her new life 09/01/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 1, 2008 8:35pm]
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