Dennis and Dionne Newton

Dennis and Dionne Newton
Dennis & Dionne Newton

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Countdown...


We had a very Merry Christmas here in Bosnia. We hope you did too! 
Santa found them all the way on the other side of the world!
They must have been good boys and girls this year!

For Christmas Eve we held our traditional BINGO night. We
had 21 people crammed into our little apartment. Not only was
the room full, so was my heart! I will miss these amazing people.

Emin (owner of the barn) and his adorable son Eren. 

It took three separate pictures to fit in all the bingo prizes. 



It was the first time several of our visitors had ever played BINGO!
Ema, in the red dress, won the first game and chose a WHOOPIE
Cushion as her prize! She had fun with it all night long!

Emir, Dijana, Tarik and Ema, part of our Bosnian family.

Christmas is now over, the new year is upon us and the countdown has begun. Our replacements, John and Karen Cooper, will arrive in Zagreb on Saturday, Jan. 13. We will pick them up in Zagreb, Croatia on Monday, Jan. 15 and begin introducing them to project partners such as Croatia Red Cross, Medicins du Mond, Jesuit Refugee Services and more. We also have two meetings scheduled with church leaders in Zagreb about new projects they would like to have considered for the upcoming year, but these projects will fall into the hands of the Coopers so we wanted to wait until they arrived for any serious discussion of the proposed projects. It is evident that the humanitarian work will go on, even without us! But it's going to be hard to let it go, to say goodbye and move on to the next step in life, whatever that may be!

We have spent the past week trying to finish up loose ends and start trying to get everything organized for the Coopers. I have a pretty good system, but I don't want them to have to sift through all my "stuff" to find relevant information, so I'm on a mission to throw out anything that isn't necessary, pack up things that must be kept but won't be needed (like financial records) and organize what's left. It's kind of a sad thing to sort through the last year and half of our lives, knowing it will be ending soon. But at the same time, it's also very rewarding to look through all that we have been part of during our time here. As we near the end of the year and the end of our mission, I wanted to share some of our mission highlights:

We have been involved in a total of 29 projects: 11 Area Initiatives (These are projects we have personally sought out, planned, submitted for approval and implemented since our arrival.)  10 refugee projects, 5 water projects and 3 Major initiatives in over 40 cities, towns and villages throughout the Balkans. 
Although this does not include all our projects, this map on our
apartment wall might give some idea of how spread out our
projects are. We estimate we have traveled nearly 80,000 kilometers
during our time here. (That's about 50,000 miles!)

  • 8 of our area projects were in partnership with organizations that assist individuals with special needs. They included:
    • Funding for a commercial kitchen that is now being used as a Culinary Vocational Training program for adults with disabilities. The individuals in the program prepare, cook, serve meals to the 150+ students and staff at Los Rosales. They are also hoping to open a small restaurant to the public in 2018.
The skills they learn will help them learn skills that will
help them be more self-reliant at home and in the workplace.

The completed kitchen, just waiting for the cooks to arrive!

    • Donating three large greenhouses for another Vocational Training program at Zastiti Me (Protect Me) in horticulture. They grow all the vegetables used in the cafeteria as well as flowers that are then arranged by students and sold at the local markets. 


    • Roof repair and cosmetic renovations were made at Mala Sirena (Little Mermaid), a small non-profit center that offers services to children with disabilities and an inclusive kindergarten program.  The painting was completed by missionaries and members of the LDS Church from across Bosnia. 12 young missionaries (plus 2 old ones- haha!) and 8 members painted the exterior entrance as well as the inside waiting areas to brighten the space after it had been damaged by the leaky roof. 
The interior went from dingy, pale green to bright and cheerful!
I had to create a design that would allow for people to paint a small
section at a time. It turned out better than expected! 

Our creative painting crew, with Adisa, the
director of Mala Sirena on the far left. 

    • We also did a pilot project with Mala Sirena which provided them with adaptive technology, including large key keyboards and iPads. The results we saw them have with the children we so impressive we opted to expand to other centers. 
The iPads allowed Tarik to show the world how smart he really is!
    • Along with iPads, a full day training workshop was offered to twelve different centers to ensure they know how to use the iPads effectively with children with a wide variety of disabilities. One of the best things about this project was that the two young educators from Mala Sirena actually taught much of the workshop. We had successfully implemented a "train the trainers" type system that will help it be sustainable in the future. Many educators/therapists were surprised at what was available to assist with their work and were eager to go back to their centers and teach others how they can increase the impact they have. It was so successful that we were able to get an extension to the project approved to include more centers than we originally planned. 
Edita and Jasminka from Mala Sirena did an outstanding job
teaching the workshops. Their enthusiasm was infectious!

Some very happy educators and therapists at the training in Banja Luka

    • Our largest, most in depth project was in partnership with EDUS (Educate Us - Education for All). 40+ special education teachers/therapists from throughout Bosnia attended (or will attend the weekend right before we leave) a three day workshop which taught them the basics of how to administer an initial assessment, create an individualized education plan based on the assessment and techniques to increase the skill acquisition of children of all abilities. Our hope is that this project will slowly begin to change the way children with special needs are educated in Bosnia.  
The workshop participants enjoyed the hands-on practice!

    • The attendees of the EDUS workshops were also provided with a "tool kit" of printed materials as well as items to help them successfully implement what they had learned. We spent weeks gathering the materials, which included a set of 1200 picture flashcards that we created using Google images and a great local printing company!
The box on top contains 1200 flashcards and the box on bottom holds a
wide variety of manipulative items to work with the children.


  • In cooperation with Muslim Aid and BIMA (a volunteer medical organization), 160 women in rural areas of Bosnia received extensive gynecological exams. Approximately 30% of these women were found to require further testing and follow up for problems identified during the exams. We also were able to get approval for an additional 75 exams in another rural city in 2018. These exams will ensure women get the treatment they need to live healthy lives. 
In addition to the exams, there was also an educational presentation
on the importance of regular gynecological screening for all women
who received the free exams. It was a packed house!
  • With the assistance of about 15 church members and the missionaries, we provided supplies and assembled 50 hygiene and food kits that were then taken to a local Catholic organization that distributes needed supplies to the homeless in the area. 
    Many hands make light work...
  • 6 schools in Bosnia now have adequate water and sanitation. 4 schools received bathroom renovation, including replacing leaking pipes, moldy tile, non-functional toilets and sinks. One school also has a new septic tank and a school in a very rural area has running water for the first time in nearly 5 years. 
From this....
...to this!




  •  In addition to our Area Initiatives, we have also executed 9 projects to assist with refugee services in Croatia. There is a special budget for refugees.The projects provided the following:
    • Medical supplies and medicine
    • School supplies for refugee children
    • Shoes for children and adult refugees
    • Bedding (blankets, sheets and pillows)
    • Hygiene supplies
    • New exterior doors
    • Electrical and plumbing work and commercial washers and dryers
    • Renovations to a rundown office space that now houses Refugee Integration Programs
    • Funding for medicines that are not covered by the government medical plans for refugees

Women from Zagreb enjoyed a day of service with Sharon Eubank,
Worldwide Director of LDS Charities. 100 backpacks were
filled with school supplies for refugee children.

These little girls were very excited to go to school after receiving
their new backpacks full of school supplies and new shoes to wear!

One of several shipments of clothing, bedding and other supplies.

  • We have also been able to support four Major Initiatives. These are projects that are planned by LDS Charities specialists and are offered throughout the world. We are just the in-country coordinators and assist as needed.
  • A Croatian couple standing by their well. It had not been cleaned for over 20 years and the water was contaminated.
    • Greenhouses - LDS Charities works in cooperation with Muslim Aid and various municipalities to provide 1000 greenhouses each year. The greenhouses provide families with a way to be self sufficient by growing their own food as well as making income from the sale of their produce. 
    • Major Water - We have had two major water projects; one in Bosnia and one in Croatia. One has been relatively easy (working with the Croatian Red Cross to clean the water wells of 1,000 rural houses whose water is not drinkable) and one really difficult (bringing clean drinking water to the Bosnian village of Hrasno).
    • Vision Care - Vision Care projects began in Bosnia in one canton (similar to a county) and we just got the contract signed for the sixth canton to participate in this program. LDS Charities works with local ophthalmologists to teach school staff how to administer eye exams. The exams are administered in the schools and, if needed, are referred to the local ophthalmology clinic for follow up care. The clinic receives specialized medical equipment to ensure appropriate follow up care is available. 


A student participating in vision screening at a rural school.

    • Maternal Newborn Care - Newborn Resuscitation started in Bosnia about ten years ago. At the time the infant mortality rate was quite high, often due to infants not breathing at birth. Medical specialists who volunteer their time with LDS Charities train local doctors and nurses in current newborn resuscitation techniques and then those who have been trained conduct training for other medical professionals who deal directly with newborns. In November, we were able to assist the specialist from the U.S. with the training of over 100 medical professionals. Over time, the infant mortality rate is now on par with that of the U.S. and the number of professionals trained continues to increase as local staff teach others at their clinics and hospitals. 
At local doctor overseeing some of his staff practicing newborn
resuscitation techniques at the training in Banja Luka.  

The rough estimate of beneficiaries from these projects is 73,000 people. It is impossible to put the true impact of the work that LDS Charities does into a number. Each of those 73,000 people will probably have a positive impact on others as they reach out to others with their new found knowledge, hope in the future and ability to be more self-reliant. It has been very humbling to be part of this work, being God's hands on earth, even if but for a short time. We will always treasure the lessons we have learned, the humility we have gained and the love we have shared with so many during this journey. We wish everyone the happiest New Year!

Friday, December 22, 2017

25 Favorite Photos of Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia

Thirty short days

Say it isn't so. We only have 30 days left in the Balkans. Using missionary vernacular, we get the great fortune of throwing our own "funeral" party soon. While Dionne and I are excited to see our U.S.-based loved ones, we feel like the clock is ticking way too quick. We have fallen in love with Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, and the rest of the countries that comprise former Yugoslavia.

Our 25 Favorite Photos of the Balkans

From the moment of our arrival we've been in awe of epic beauty of this land. Silly us, we did not even bring a "real" camera with us; figured we would rely on iPhone pictures. Two quick weeks later and we were camera shopping. We now carry 3 iPhones, an iPad, and a camera. Now it is rare that we do not have something to capture the wonder of the moment. 

This week Dionne and I sorted through our 9,236 digital memories from our mission. Somehow we were able to come up with our 25 favorite photos of the Balkans. These are not our favorite pictures, mind you. Our favorite pictures involve people, projects, and stories. But these are our favorite pictures of the countries in the Adriatic North Mission.

While most of these were taken by Dionne on our "real" camera, there are some iPhone and iPad photos as well. This country is so photogenic that even a "close my eyes, point, and shoot" guy like me can produce some beauty.

Timeless Beauty and Epic Landscapes

We hope you enjoy this photo essay. And maybe are inspired to come visit the Balkans and have your own awe-inspiring experiences here. 

If you would like to see a video with the 25 photos...click the link here.


Else you can just scroll down and view each of the photos.

This is Lake Bled and is probably my favorite picture of the 25. In April we stayed at the Grand Hotel with Erica and Brayden. I came down for the free breakfast buffet and sat down at the window to find this view. Epic. Even I could not mess this picture up. Funny thing is, however, that it is not even my favorite picture from our times at Lake Bled. I love the pictures of my kids riding the Alpine Slide there more. 

These are the Julian Alps in Slovenia. We had just discovered the drive between Jajce and Banja Luka and did not believe we would find another drive as gorgeous. Two weeks later we were driving this route along the Julian Alps. Children of the Rockies, these mountains brought our spirits home. We are going to return one-more time before we leave; Slovenia just draws you back.

Autumn and Winter in Bosnia can be awe-inspiring. But it also can be very depressing. It seemed like we did not see sunshine for over 30 days last Winter. Both Sarajevo and Tuzla suffer from a horrible inversion. We were deep in this depressive funk during a drive over the mountain between Travnik and Banja Luka. Near the top of the mountain we began to see sunshine. For a short moment, hope seemed to fill our car. Dionne got out to bask in the sunshine and used her iPhone to snap this picture. Sisters Higley and Locey were with us for this trip and they can attest to the lightening of the mood.

Once you discover the sunshine, Bosnian winters are tremendous.  We have always lived in areas with snow. But we have never seen winters this pretty. All January the trees seemed carved out of icicles. This photo was taken on a return trip from Vlasenica. Not sure but it might have been the trip where we took a wrong turn and drove an hour before we noticed we were almost to enter Serbia. 
We first discovered the flour mills of Jajce last January. There are about 20 small wooden floor grinding sheds situated along a lake. Years ago families were assigned a shed and ground their floor here. Impressive any time of year, the half-frozen mills in January were epic. Wish I could share all of the pictures we took. It was hard for us to pick just two favorites.
This is another picture from Jajce. 
There are over 1,000 islands in the country of Croatia; a land dominated by the sea. By way of contrast, we visited the 13th largest island in Slovenia inside a cave! This photo is from the island of Mljet. We visited in March with Downi and Boyce. This was the true definition of off-season. Not a single restaurant was open when we visited. A small grocery store was open a few hours a day so we bought some groceries. Our apartment landlord had four bicycles which we rode along an inlet where we snapped this photo.
When we first opened our mission call, we saw that we were to be stationed in Zagreb, Croatia. We did a quick Google-search and were excited by the images that appeared. All were of these amazing waterfalls and a beautiful town with orange-roofed buildings. We later learned that this was Dubrovnik (and then also learned that we would actually be living in Sarajevo). The first time we drove to Dubrovnik, the city did not disappoint. It really takes your breath away when you see it for the first time. But for us it is almost like the Washington Monument in D.C. Every time we would host visitors, we would take them on the monument tour...so we got a little tired of the Washington and Lincoln memorials. We have been to Dubrovnik 5 times now. So our favorite Dubrovnik picture does not capture the epic city view...rather it is a smaller and more intimate image.
The small, ancient town of Jajce boasts three wonders...the aforementioned flour mills, a castle which dates back to the Bosnian kingdom days, and this water fall located in the heart of town. Like Dubrovnik, we have visited this waterfall many, many times. So our favorite photo uses the waterfall as a backdrop rather than as the centerpiece. 

While Slovenia reminds us of our home in the Rockies, Bosnia reminds us more of the Appalachians. The foliage is heavy, green, and thick. You cannot easily wander through the forests. This photo is from a trip to Lukomir which is above the tree-line. Up here you can see evidence of the gray rocks as well as the dense greenery along the base of the mountains. 
When we first arrived in Bosnia, our friend Senada recommended that we visit Lukomir. Somewhat naive, we set off on a Saturday for a leisurely trip to find this little village. Little did we know that an off-road vehicle was required. And that this was going to be the first of many times we could not find a desired destination. We finally made it to Lukomir via ATVs with our kids in May. Britni took this photo of the little village. Only 80 people live here during the summer, none during the winter. 
The Sarajevo bobsled run remains intact. It also is available for anyone to use. There are stairs which allow you to hop onto the track and walk it. People bike it. Some Olympic hopeful luge athletes practice on it during the off-season. And I have jogged up and down it. It is a "must-see" if you are visiting Sarajevo. And unlike Dubrovnik, I have not tired with visiting the bobsled track.
Croatia's Platvice is a protected UNESCO heritage site and one of the wonders of the world. I found it as breath-taking as the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone Park. Again, this photo does not really capture the grandeur of Plitvice. But for us, in a small way, it conveys the complexity of so many of the little images that we found there.
Croatia sunsets are tremendous. Bosnian, not so much. We like this photo because it is from the window of our apartment. For us, this was about as good as a Bosnian sunset gets. 
We captured this photo driving from Jablanica to Zadar. Bosnian roads are in horrible condition. They have ruts, are very small, it is difficult to pass, and many turn into one-lane dirt roads without advance notice. All of this makes them so much fun to drive on. Add this type of scenery and our days as road warriors here have been more than just tolerable...we've actually enjoyed much of our time in the car. 
This photo is from the same drive last July. Two immediate images gripped us when crossed into Bosnia for the first time. 1) There were so many burnt out buildings (we first through they had been bombed out). 2) These haystacks which harken to a bygone era.  
This is another favorite photo from Plitvice. We have visited twice. The first time with our kids (Brit, Richie, Bren, Amy, Mitch, and Briel). The second time on a boondoggle trip with our summer missionaries (Sisters McColm and Martineau, Elders King and Echols). 
Another favorite Sarajevo location is an old burnt-out hotel overlooking the city. The view of the city is amazing. But for me the real treat is the ruined building. 
Kravice is a waterfall in Southern Bosnia. What makes it fun is that you can swim in the lake waters. What makes it not so fun is that it is river water and it is very, very cold. We went on a rainy but warm day in August. The water was chilly but tolerable. But no way would you find me swimming here in June or September. While I was swimming, Dionne took this picture.

The word "darby" refers to the days when hated rival football teams face each other. I was so excited to attend a true darby with Elders Echols and Smith along with friend Haris. The two opposing sets of fans were on different sides of the stadium but this did not stop them from trying to burn each other out. Somehow the security forces which did "pat downs" on every fan and would not let Elder Smith bring his water bottle into the stadium missed over 100 flares and other assorted fireworks. At one point the smoke became so intense that they had to stop the game for 5 minutes to let it pass. 
Our friends Emir and Dijana invited us to the country for a Sunday BBQ at his parents home. The suggested a leisurely hike after dinner. Of course we said. We did not know it was a 5-mile hike straight up a mountain! But what gorgeous views and interesting company. This is Dionne enjoying the view near their old family homestead near VareŇ° Bosnia.
With the foliage in Bosnia, imagine my excitement at the thought of my first Autumn here. "Oh, the colors must be amazing," I thought. New England amazing. But alas, it is not so. Autumn is pretty. But it is not as overwhelming as Spring, Summer, and Winter. Especially Winter. We love this shot because it shows the colors of Fall and also the layered mountain landscapes.
We have been working on a water project near the small village of Hrasno. While we have been to the municipality (Kalesija) several times, it was only recently that we visited Hrasno. I took this photo from my iPhone. This is a typical rural tractor in Bosnia. In the U.S. we would find this in a museum. 
We had to include a picture of the Mostar bridge. But we actually do not have a great picture of it. Most are group shots and/or selfies at the base of the bridge. This photo is from the Urban Grill, a little restaurant with average food but an unbelievable view. 
And so we find ourselves back to Winter. This is Riders of Hope in Sarajevo. Our home away from home. Last January Dionne and I volunteered to help them out during a really cold day. The horses needed water, their pens were filthy, and they had not been turned out for a while. I snapped this picture in between cleaning frozen stalls. Fun days on the mission.

That was the last of the pictures. We wish you a Merry Christmas. For our friends here in the Balkans, we have one last month to express our love for you. For those of you back home, vidimo se skoro.