Dennis and Dionne Newton

Dennis and Dionne Newton
Dennis & Dionne Newton

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Half over or half to go??

You'll learn more about this amazing guy later in the post, but
I wanted a cute picture to show up on my FaceBook link so
I had to put a cute picture for the first thing in the blog!

As I looked at the date today I was reminded that we have now completed half of our mission assignment. Is it half over or do we have half to go? As I pondered that question my mind raced through the past nine months. The overwhelming sense of being outside my comfort zone when we first arrived has now dissipated. The surroundings are now familiar, friends are like family and the mission is now my new comfort zone. Much like winter turning into spring, it has been a gradual shift from cold and snow to sunshine and warmth. Although there have also been a few unexpected "flurries" in the mission, much like the snow we have experienced here in April. Because of the flurries and rain, the flowers spring up from the moist ground radiating beauty to a once brown and gray landscape. I am now surrounded by that beauty in all aspects of the missionary work. I truly feel that I am now living the old adage "bloom where you are planted." I like to think of myself as an optimistic person, although my husband my disagree on some levels, so as I contemplate that question again, is it half over or do we have half to go, I choose to look to the future and think about all that we hope to accomplish in the remaining nine months that we have here in the mission field. It's definitely speeding by and I hope we will always remember to treasure each moment.

The work continues here in Bosnia. In addition to the community projects that local missionaries like Denny and I coordinate and emergency response efforts, LDS Charities has many programs around the world that are referred to as Major Initiatives. Major Initiatives are spearheaded by LDS Charities main headquarters in Salt Lake City, with a different specialist assigned to oversee the Major Initiatives in each area of the world. There are six Major Initiatives: Wheelchairs, Clean Water, Benson Food (self reliance through food production), Immunizations, Maternal and Newborn Care and Vision. Bosnia has been fortunate to have had five of the six programs (excluding Immunizations) implemented here in the past five years.

For 2017, Wheelchairs and Clean Water have been discontinued, Wheelchairs due to customs issues and Clean Water because it is no longer needed. Benson Foods, in cooperation with the local NGO Muslim Aid, will be assisting in providing greenhouses to nearly 400 individuals/families this year. Maternal Newborn Care was started in Bosnia about ten years ago and will resume training this fall for medical staff in newborn resuscitation, which has had a huge impact resulting in a significant decrease in infant mortality and complications due to lack of oxygen at birth. This program literally saves lives! Another very successful program in Bosnia has been the implementation of vision screening in the schools through Vision Care projects in multiple cantons (equivalent of a county.)

Earlier this month Ike Ferguson, the Vision Care Specialist, came to follow up with the numerous ongoing vision projects and meet with local leaders in the Ministries of Health and Education to discuss future collaborations in a new canton. We spent the week traveling with him and the in-country coordinators that assist with all the ground work and translations for the vision projects. It was a very "eye-opening" week. As the screening results are now coming in, they are finding that 9-11% of children in Bosnia are being sent for further evaluation. This is nearly double the average in the U.S. With early detection, many future problems will be avoided. It also gave us an opportunity to meet more people who we may be able to network with for our community projects.

While we are used to using the ABC side of the eye chart, they
use the other side with the "E" and the children are asked to turn
their "E" the same direction as the one pointed to on the chart. 

Meeting to discuss vision care. Ike Ferguson on the far right.
It was nice to finally meet him in person after months of
emails and a few phone calls about vision projects!

While the vision projects are very beneficial and we enjoyed learning more about them, the most exhilarating thing we did last week was visit our friends at Mala Sirena. They have now been using their tablets with students for a little over a month now. We were thrilled to see the work they are doing and the progress they are making with some of their students as we observed their therapist working with some of these amazing children. Here are a few highlights:
This little guy has struggled with some of the traditional therapies
they have tried, but has blossomed on the tablet! He's now able
to demonstrate his true cognitive abilities and is not limited by his
inability to grasp memory game cards or hold a pencil. His finger
dexterity as well as his hand/eye coordination has improved in
the short amount of time he has spent using the tablet during his
therapy sessions. And he thinks he's just playing games! 

This sweetie will now actively participate in her therapy sessions.
Before the tablet, she would knock everything off the table and
refused to engage in activities during her therapy sessions. Now
she is happily doing both her traditional and tablet sessions! They
are already seeing huge progress in many of her therapy goals!

No one can say that video isn't an exhibition of total engagement and enjoyment! Doing simple exercises like Squish the Squash (Thanks to Chris Tholen for the suggested apps!) has already increased his ability to use his arm, hand and fingers. His favorite game is Memory. When he used to play it with traditional Memory game cards on the table, he didn't seem to understand the game. On the tablet, he's a master Memory maker! It seems now that it wasn't his cognitive ability to play that was limited, only his physical ability. Now he's free to show everyone just how smart he really is!

I couldn't stop smiling the entire visit. It's amazing how technology can improve lives if used correctly. Adisa, the center director, also told us that they have one young girl who is non-verbal that is currently being trained to use the tablet to communicate. We weren't able to observe her, but her therapist said she can now tell people her name using her tablet, something she has never been able to do before. They will continue teaching her how to use the tablet and we are looking forward to visiting again to see her progress.

Since our first meeting with Adisa at Mala Sirena, she has wanted to show us the Stone Spheres near the small town where the center is located. We finally made it happen on our most recent visit. We also had the pleasure of meeting her son and sharing the time with her daughter who we had met previously. The origin of the stone spheres is unknown. Some believe they are ancient man made stones, others believe they may have been created by a natural process called concretion. Whatever their origin, they were impressive! The area is also another example of the beauty of Bosnia.

There are several of these stone spheres throughout the area. 

Adisa with her son and daughter. Her son, who
has autism, is the inspiration behind Mala Sirena. 

This picture doesn't truly reflect the beauty of the moment as
the sun finally broke through the clouds and shone down
upon us as we took in the beauty of God's handiwork. 
So, for now, I will focus on that half left to go! We still have 9 months to feel God's hand in our work here in the Balkans. 9 months to make lifelong friends. 9 months to expand our hearts to love deeper and 9 months to make a difference for those we serve in this always surprising, breathtakingly beautiful place on earth. We definitely have half of the mission to go! Which is a great thing because we have quite a few new projects waiting before us!


  1. Dionne, you words and thoughts are inspiring! I love you and i am so lucky to call you my friend.

    1. Thank you! The feelings are mutual!

  2. The stories about how tablets have changed the lives of those children are very heartwarming. If they had been born just 20 years ago this technology would not have been available to them. It does not seem possible that you were at the MTC over 9 months ago!

  3. I has been amazing how effective the technology has been! Times is moving quickly!

  4. You are such a blessing. I am so happy for you and so proud.