As we sat on the train in a raging snowstorm, traveling from Tashkent to Samarkand, Uzbekistan, one of the great cities of the old Silk Road in Central Asia, my husband, George, and I reflected upon our 10 years of service thus far as Neonatal Resuscitation Training Technical Specialists. As we talked, I remembered the lyrics of an old song that we often sing: “Far away places with strange sounding names, Far away over the sea, Those far away places with strange sounding names are calling, calling me.”
When we began our service in 2004, George had been contemplating retirement as an anesthesiologist, the Neonatal Resuscitation Program was in its infancy, and we had no idea of the great adventures that lay before us. We did not know how long we would serve and thought that it might only be 18 to 24 months at most. Instead, we’ve conducted projects for LDS Charities throughout Central and Eastern Europe, Asia, Central Asia, and Africa. We have also watched the growth of this great program with amazement as requests for assistance and partnership have poured in from all over the world from ministries of health and from international partners such as UNICEF, UNFPA, Save the Children, USAID, the Red Cross, and GIZ.
Driving through the back roads of Ethiopia, flying from city to city in Kazakhstan over the steppes of Central Asia, and visiting ancient cities in Cambodia have been unexpected, exotic experiences. As much as we’ve enjoyed the excitement of traveling, one of the greatest gifts of the past 10 years has been the opportunity to make wonderful lasting friendships based upon shared goals. Neonatologists, pediatricians, obstetricians, anesthesiologists, midwives, and nurses in every country we’ve served in have become our colleagues, our brothers and sisters, and our adopted sons and daughters as we have united in our passion to save babies who are not breathing at birth. When I once asked one of our Kazakh neonatologist “daughters” if she could share a success story with me about saving a baby who was not breathing at birth, she thought for a moment and then replied with great feeling and tears in her eyes, “I don’t remember the ones I saved; I only remember the ones I lost.” Like all our colleagues, this neonatologist has such great passion for saving babies that she feels each loss acutely.
We have also learned many times just how much God truly loves each one of His children. For example, we once met a beautiful seven- or eight-year-old child. I introduced myself to her and when we began to talk, I noticed that her eyes were not “tracking” well. One eye was markedly turned in. We inquired about her family circumstances and were told that the family did not have the resources to seek medical care for her. The next day my husband asked our Romanian medical colleagues if there was a local ophthalmologist who might be able to treat this child’s condition. We explained the situation to the doctor and she offered to treat this little girl at no cost because of the contribution of LDS Charities to infant and maternal care in Romania. What a blessing for this child and her family!
Though we do not preach religion in the places we serve, we find purpose in helping God’s children. At a meeting of a large group of Turkish neonatologists and pediatricians, one of the doctors raised his hand and asked my husband, “Why are you doing this?” George explained to them that even though we do not preach our religion, we are volunteering in this program because we know that we are all children of the same God and we have a responsibility to help each other.
Each day of our lives we thank our Father in Heaven for the opportunity we have had to serve. We also ask for continued health and strength to go forward in this great work. Who would have thought that two retired senior citizens would have such amazing, life-changing experiences?By Marcia Bennett