Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

LDS humanitarian relief in Romania

Published: Saturday, Aug. 18, 1990

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Humanitarian service efforts by Church members throughout Europe are making a positive impact on the lives of hundreds of people in Romania.

Welfare efforts have followed as a consequence of a visit in February to Romania by Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Council of the Twelve, Elder Hans B. Ringger of the Seventy and president of the Europe Area, and Peter Berkhahn, a representative of the Presiding Bishopric's office at area headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany.Soon after the revolution in which Romania's dictator was deposed, the Europe Area Presidency invited European Latter-day Saints to "donate generously for the relief of the people of Romania."

"The response of the saints throughout the world, especially Europe, has been overwhelming," said Brother Berkhahn. "The response exceeded every expectation we had regarding financial donations, donations in kind, and service.

"Truck loads of relief supplies have been sent to Romania, and loads are still arriving with donations from throughout Europe. In this humanitarian effort, compassion has known no national boundaries."

The Europe Area Presidency, which includes Elder Ringger and his counselors, Elders Spencer J. Condie and Albert Choules Jr., both of the Seventy, instructed that a Romanian relief fund be established under direction of the area welfare committee. Close correlation with the Church's general welfare committee in Salt Lake City has been provided by Isaac Ferguson, the Church's headquarters adviser to the area committee.

"When we established the Romanian relief fund, we agreed that the group of victims of the revolution least capable of changing their lot were children, specifically orphans," said Brother Berkhahn. "Therefore, our project was targeted on helping orphans and other children in child-care institutions.

"We had an assessment team of specialists, including Church members from Austria, Finland, Germany and the United States, and one non-LDS doctor, visit Romania to determine needs and to help develop strategy.

"After we determined which items were most needed, we invited members throughout Europe to send such donations in cash or kind. They responded generously. Donations were made also by non-members and numerous commercial enterprises not associated with the Church."

The European LDS humanitarian relief efforts have been welcomed in Romania, and are successful. "One of the most important things we did in the beginning was to talk to the directors of hospitals and orphanages. We asked exactly what we could do. One director said, `Many are helping, but you are the first ones to ask us what we really need.' So the donations being sent to Romania are in response to specific needs, as expressed by those involved with the child-care institutions we are helping."

The European LDS humanitarian relief committee discovered that in addition to cash donations and in-kind donations, there was a crucial need for the transfer of know-how or professional expertise relating to child care and development. Arrangements were made to send an LDS team from Salt Lake City to Romania to examine hearing impaired students at a vocational school.

The Europe Area welfare committee selected the vocational school in Bucharest as the site of one of its first humanitarian relief projects. Among students at the school are some 200 hearing impaired teenagers. The LDS team sent by the European committee examined those students and determined 160 could be helped with hearing aids. One teenager, upon being fitted with a hearing aid, jumped up and down, clapping his hands. It was the first time in more than 10 years that he could hear.

Heading the team was Glen K. Lund, a Salt Lake medical doctor who is an ear, nose and throat specialist. His wife, Ann, was a member of the team who did the clerical work required, such as recording medical histories on all the students, tabulating results of hearing tests, documenting specifications for hearing aids, etc. Other members of the LDS team from Salt Lake City were Kim B. Leishman, director of speech and hearing services for Therapy Management, a division of Intermountain Health Care; and C. Rex Scott, owner and director of Audiology Associates of Salt Lake City.

Dr. Lund and his group took some testing equipment, medical supplies and 200 hearing aids with them. "They also taught local professionals in Romania how to use the instruments and how to measure and fit the hearing aids," said Brother Berkhahn. "In the future, we can send hearing aids to Romania without having to send people there. But we are planning to have at least one member of the team return to Romania for a follow-up visit."

Dr. Lund, in an interview with the Church News, explained the goal was not just to provide supplies. `We wanted to teach them how to advance their own cause," he said. "They would like to help themselves."

However, Dr. Lund and his associates discovered Romanian doctors and technicians have difficulty in their attempts to help their own people. For example, the ear, nose and throat specialist who allowed the LDS team to perform examinations in his clinic had antiquated equipment. "He had a foot pump, which he had to push to try to create suction needed as he was doing tonsilectomies, which he performs in the office," said Dr. Lund. "He was a good man who was doing a good service, the best he could with what he had. He did not even own an otoscope: this ear, nose and throat specialist didn't even have an instrument to look into the ear."

Dr. Lund said he observed doctors putting ventilation tubes into children's ears. "They were actually tearing a little hole into the eardrum with a sharp needle," he said. "They had to make the tubes themselves out of polyethylene tubing they flared with an alcohol lamp. The tubes we use can be resterilized and used again; we had taken about 100 of those with us, which we gave to a doctor. We also gave him some nice micro-knives for making a proper incision in the ear drum. He became very emotional."

In relating this story, Dr. Lund got emotional himself. "We were touched by what we saw and learned," he said. "We felt the Romanians loved us, and we loved them. We have received some letters, including a copy of a letter Dr. Andrei Georgescu wrote and placed in a newspaper in Bucharest. The letter detailed the Church's efforts there, and told how much they appreciated what we did."

Team member C. Rex Scott noted that the Romanian doctors, assistants and technicians are anxious to learn. "They're humble, loving and very warm," he said. "One said the Romanian people feel almost as if they had been locked up in a big room with no windows and, all of a sudden, the doors were opened and they were able to go out in the bright sunlight, and now they are saying, `Help us. We want to do what we can but we need help. Show us the way.' "

Kim B. Leishman, another team member, observed, "The European saints have a great interest in the people of other nations who need help. While we were in Bucharest, truckloads of supplies arrived from the European saints. We could feel the warmth and compassion they have for the Romanians. It was such a privilege for us to be invited to help in this effort. I can't think of a nicer way to get closer to people than to take humanitarian service to them. That, in my opinion, is the nuts and bolts of the welfare program as it's intended. It's not just money. It's serving, it's getting to know them."

Brother Berkhahn said the project to send Dr. Lund and other members of his team to Romania is just one of a series of efforts under way by concerned members. "We have contacted companies throughout Europe, many of which have donated medical supplies and other items. Some have given us substantial discounts on equipment and tools.

"The school where Dr. Lund and his team served is a vocational school that trains deaf students to become carpenters and metal workers. But the school doesn't have the tools the students need, things like electric drills and welding equipment. We announced this need to our members and every stake in Europe has become involved. We put the word out that we needed 40 wood planes, 200 pairs of rubber boots, 50 rubber aprons. These items are coming in."

Leaders at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City and Europe Area headquarters in Frankfurt expressed gratitude to members who have helped with humanitarian relief efforts in Romania. Brother Ferguson said those who wish to contribute to further relief efforts should speak with local priesthood leaders, who may refer such interests to the Church Welfare Services Department in Salt Lake City.