“Health Specialists Volunteer for Service in Bulgaria,” Ensign, Sept. 1993, 74
In an effort to improve the health care and education of children in Bulgaria, a number of Church volunteers have been traveling to the country to teach advanced skills and techniques to Bulgarian doctors and special education teachers.
The volunteers work through the Europe Area presidency and the Church humanitarian services organization to train doctors and educators in this former Eastern Bloc nation, said Isaac C. Ferguson, director of international welfare and humanitarian service for the Church.
“Among those we’ve sent are three ophthalmologists, a cancer specialist, a gastroenterologist, a neurologist, and a rheumatologist, all of whom went as pediatric specialists,” Brother Ferguson said. A neonatologist, an endocrinologist, and a fourth ophthalmologist are scheduled to go to Bulgaria before the end of 1993. Two educators have also been sent to help improve the special education programs, and two Bulgarian school administrators have visited the United States to tour educational training facilities in Utah and Idaho.
The volunteers spend about two weeks in Bulgaria providing technical training. Specialists serve in hospitals and universities where their expertise and skills can be used “to train the trainers,” said Edward Bishop, field manager for international welfare and humanitarian service for the Church. When the volunteers leave, the Bulgarians can pass on to their colleagues the new skills they’ve learned.
The program began shortly after Bulgaria was freed from communism. “After an assessment visit, we decided there were some areas where we could make a contribution, specifically in pediatrics and special education,” Brother Ferguson said.
In the Bulgarian system, work in related medical and special education areas is coordinated—for example, in the areas of ophthalmology and special education for the blind, Brother Ferguson said. “There is a natural movement back and forth from the purely medical to special education,” he said. So the Church offered assistance in both the medical and special education fields.
“We first helped by sending education materials, and then we set up a program involving technicians,” Brother Ferguson said. As part of its humanitarian effort, the Church has sent interocular lenses and audiology testing equipment, textbooks, clothing and blankets, and Braille typewriters to two schools for the blind.
The humanitarian efforts have been very well received by the Bulgarians. “We seem to have been able to help the Bulgarian authorities understand that we have a sincere interest in the well-being of the people,” Brother Ferguson said.
“We typically make a commitment to the government to keep this type of program going for three years,” Brother Ferguson said. The program in Bulgaria will probably last anywhere from three to five years, he added.
Volunteers are chosen based on the special skills needed at the time. Most of the volunteers are Latter-day Saints, although there have been several who are not. Experience and availability are also taken into consideration before an invitation to volunteer is extended.
There are also similar programs going on in other countries, such as Romania and Albania. “We are quite active in several places in eastern Europe,” said Brother Ferguson.