Volunteers bring hope to Bulgarian children

Eyes that see and ears that hear: these are among hopes of Latter-day Saints who, for the past two years, have been involved in humanitarian projects helping needy children in this Balkan nation.

Pediatricians, ophthalmologists, audiologists and others working through the Europe Area presidency and Church humanitarian services have traveled to Bulgaria to help train doctors and nurses in efforts to improve lives of children in this former Eastern Bloc nation, according to Ike Ferguson, director of Church humanitarian services.In addition to medical personnel, the Church also has sent educators to help strengthen special education programs in the country, and has brought two Bulgarian school administrators to the United States for a three-week tour of Utah and Idaho educational training facilities.

"We've had a fairly large number of doctors volunteering to work on three different sets of activities over the past two years," Brother Ferguson said. "They typically go one at a time and spend about two weeks each. We supplied four ophthalmologists during the past year and will send another four in the coming year to give training in more advanced techniques to Bulgarian ophthalmologists. We've also sent a cancer specialist, a neurologist, a rheumatologist and a gastroenterologist, all of whom went as pediatrics specialists."

The presence of LDS volunteers in Bulgarian hospitals and institutions is an example of teamwork among Latter-day Saints at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City and in Western Europe, and with non-LDS organizations, such as the International Eye Institute in Bethesda, Md.

The Church works with the institute, through which ophthalmologists are invited to volunteer their time and spend two weeks in Bulgaria where they teach Bulgarian ophthalmologists the latest methods of using equipment that has been purchased with a grant obtained by the International Eye Foundation.

Helping coordinate efforts between organizations such as the International Eye Institute and the Church humanitarian services is Edward Bishop. He is the Church's field manager for international welfare and humanitarian services. Based in Salt Lake City, he is assigned to the geographic area of Europe. He was in Bulgaria in May.

"Church members in Western Europe have been very generous with their humanitarian contributions," Brother Bishop said. "I think they have a greater feeling of compassion because of what they went through during World War II. Many of them know first-hand what the greatest needs are. They have said, `Let us help.' So we might have supplies going to Eastern Europe from Salt Lake City but the funding for those supplies often comes from Western Europe. Special efforts went on in Western Europe for what is being done now in Bulgaria. The Church brought two school administrators to Utah and hosted them for three weeks, providing information and insight about education."

Brother Bishop said there are a lot of agencies working to provide humanitarian services in Eastern Europe. "We work through existing agencies in some cases," he said. "This helps prevent duplication of efforts and services. When we send clothing, for example, we usually go through another organization and let it take care of the physical distribution.

"Sometimes we work one-on-one, as we've been doing with the LDS doctors going to Bulgaria. The doctors go on rounds in hospitals and go into the operating rooms."

Among humanitarian services of the Church in Bulgaria are the delivery of inter-ocular lenses, text books to schools and to university and civic libraries, Braille typewriters to two schools for the blind, microfilm machines to an archives, clothing and blankets to orphanages and facilities for the mentally ill, and audiology testing equipment. In addition, several teachers have gone to Bulgaria to teach English.

On May 18, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Council of the Twelve spent a morning visiting Church humanitarian projects in Sofia. He was accompanied by Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander of the Seventy and a counselor in the Europe Area presidency, Pres. Dale J. Warner of the Bulgaria Sofia Mission, and Elder Lynn Nelson, a humanitarian service missionary.

Elder Ballard and those accompanying him visited the Ministry of Health and two classrooms of a school for the mentally retarded. The Church has donated to the school sewing machines and tools for a woodworking shop.

Elder Ballard and Elder Neuenschwander also heard a report from the two Bulgarian school administrators who recently returned from the Church-sponsored tour to Utah and Idaho. The administrators reported they are confident that Bulgaria is now at least five years ahead in curriculum and training because of what they learned from the tour.

"The increased efforts to be involved in worldwide Christian service has blessed thousands of our Heavenly Father's children," Elder Ballard told the Church News. "Included in those blessings are those that come to members of the Church who render the service. It's a wonderful thing, and surely the Lord must be pleased that His Church is involved in this kind of humanitarian service." - Gerry Avant

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