Monday, March 23, 2009

One Heart Bulgaria Foundation: Bulgaria Sofia Missionaries Love for Orphans

From time to time I run across an interesting humanitarian effort being done by former missionaries of the church. A couple in the past I mentioned were the King Benjamin Clothing Project and the Wallace Toronto Foundation.

As I was researching the Bulgaria Sofia Mission I found an extremely worthwhile effort--One Heart Bulgaria--where Bulgarian orphanages have been receiving ongoing support from two former sister missionaries who have recruited other former RMs and dozens of financial donors. Their foundation does many worthwhile projects.

"All of One Heart Bulgaria's programs have been created with the primary goal of dramatically improving the lives of orphans in Bulgaria. We achieve this on many critical levels through sponsorships of individual orphanages; completion of special projects for the orphanages; providing specialized medical care; implementing life skills training programs for the teenage orphans; and training orphanage staff, to properly care for the orphans."

Back in 1995 a sister missionary Deborah Dushku visited an orphanage in one of her areas and wrote about its impact on her life:
I remember the first time I walked into an orphanage in Bulgaria. Several small dark-eyed children ran toward me with their arms stretched out calling, "Mommy, Mommy." Each wanted to be embraced. I watched in wonder at these little ones — born in a third-world country, and now orphans. I picked up a little girl, too small for her age, and held her on my hip. I assured myself that someday I'd return and adopt a Bulgarian child. Little did I know how many Bulgarian orphans would become a part of my life.
As she was leaving the country with her companion Heidi Glyn the two discussed their experiences and what they might do about it. Within a few years something happened that made it a reality:

Sometime later, looking out the window of the small plane leaving Bulgaria at the conclusion of my mission, I cried quietly to myself. I had been profoundly affected by my mission and the deeply meaningful relationships I developed.

Seated next to me on that flight was my companion and friend, Glyn Barker, who shared my love for Bulgaria. That flight home was the end of one mission for Glyn, and the beginning of another. Years later, she returned to Bulgaria and tried to adopt two orphan brothers, Lyubcho and Ivan.

Health problems prevented her from completing the adoption process and the two were left. If she couldn't be their mother, she felt there must be a way to nurture them.

So she hired a Bulgarian friend, Radost, to make weekly visits to the orphanage and bring fresh fruits and vegetables. Out of this desire to care for two brothers came inspiration to start "One Heart," an organization to aid Bulgarian orphans. It was organized in March 2003 with Glyn Barker as president and me as vice president. Later that month, as companions again, this time on a different mission, we returned.

We took bags filled with baby aspirin, diaper rash ointment, bottles, underwear, developmental toys, bedding and other essentials requested by an orphanage.

Our three goals were to deliver the supplies to two orphanages, seek out additional orphanages that might be interested in our assistance, and to register the organization with Bulgarian officials. With Heavenly Father's help, we accomplished our goals and more.

The Bulgarian government accepted our humanitarian offer with excitement and gratitude, enabling us to organize a Bulgarian sister foundation to "One Heart."
I noticed that both women Deborah Dushku Gardner were honored. Deborah at Homecoming 2007 with a BYU Distinguished Alumni Award and former companion Heidi Brown Glyn Barker who also received a BYU-Idaho Distinguished Almni Award in 2005 for their efforts.

The BYU press release said of Dushku Gardiner's contributions:
Gardner’s mission to Bulgaria prompted the full-time mother of five to focus on humanitarian aid. She cofounded One Heart Bulgaria, which improves the lives of children in 15 Bulgarian orphanages. As the foundation's executive director, Gardner has organized projects including an immunization program, orphanage renovations, an orphan nurturing program, and a hydrocephalus program that provides life-saving shunts and surgeries for infants and young children. Additionally, she has created a jobs program and a halfway home for teenagers. Gardner guided her 9-year-old daughter in a fund-raising project that raised $1,200 to provide birthday and Christmas parties for orphans.
The history of the organization followed the following chain of events according to the One Heart Bulgaria site:
One Heart Bulgaria's roots go back to 1997, when co-founder, Glyn Barker, delivered a truckload of humanitarian supplies to an orphanage in Sofia, Bulgaria. Moved and saddened by the conditions she saw there, she determined to remain involved in helping this particular group of needy children. In December of 2000, Glyn and a group of interested friends delivered Christmas presents and medical supplies to the orphanages. Another humanitarian shipment was made the next year, arriving on Christmas Day.

Also in 2000, Glyn accompanied a friend on a trip to Bulgaria to assist with an adoption. The plight of two little boys—twin brothers—who lived in one of the orphanages caught her attention, and she decided that there must be something she could do to ease their suffering and bring them a little happiness and hope on an ongoing basis. With the help of her long-time friend, Radost Yanakieva, Glyn began sending monthly donations for food and medicine for the little boys—only to find that the relatively small amount she was sending was having a greater impact than she anticipated.

Interest in this humanitarian effort soon grew among family members and friends, and before long Deborah Dushku Gardner duplicated Glyn’s program in an infant orphanage. By this time, Glyn and Deborah began discussing the possibility of incorporating as a non-profit organization.

In March of 2003, the dream became a reality— One Heart Bulgaria incorporated both as a non-profit organization in America, and as a non-profit foundation in Bulgaria. In the year and a half following the incorporation, One Heart Bulgaria expanded quickly to impact the lives of over 850 children living in ten orphanages in Western Bulgaria. Within three years of incorporating, the organization was improving the quality of life for 1,200 plus orphans living in fourteen orphanages.
Several missionaries have also become involved with the organization including:Chelsia Evans, Jeff Swift, Craig L. Winder, and Tony Anderson.

Many LDS youth groups do fund-raisers to help the many different orphanages that are served by the foundation. They have done such things as car washes, pizza parties, sell candy bars and cookies etc.

Perusing their recent 2008 quarterly newsletter I read of a family that really helped out:
The Stringham family have been dedicated sponsors for the Gorna Koznitsa orphanage since 2003. Gorna Koznitsa is home to 52 mentally handicapped
and disabled children ages 7-19. The dilapidated facility is tucked away in a
remote village making it difficult to access. The small orphanage staff at Gorna Koznitsa is constantly overwhelmed and discouraged by the children’s many needs. Most of the children wet the beds and tear at their mattresses, creating a lot of mess and laundry, not to mention bathing time.
When asked why they chose to sponsor Gorna Koznitsa, Brother Stringham replied:
“...we wanted to help those children who can’t help themselves. Having children of
our own, it is heart breaking to see that there are children who don’t have parents
or families to love and take care of them.”

With the help of the Stringham family’s sponsorship, One Heart Bulgaria has been
able to help alleviate some of the strains and needs at the orphanage by providing boiler repairs for the heating system, water heaters, and a large washing machine. Their sponsorship has also regularly provided for medicines, hygiene supplies, mattress replacements/covers, fresh fruits and vegetables, and detergents.
The organization does much good and has little overhead with the money contributed going to benefit over one thousand orphans in Bulgaria. Deborah is available as a youth motivational speaker and for other public speaking engagements. To schedule a speaking arrangement, please contact Deborah at

You can make a difference by donating to the organization and they have several ways to donate. In addition church groups can combine their efforts so that small amounts of money can be pooled in to larger ones. The group had hoped to have a benefit concert but in checking the BYU ticket office I couldn't find any scheduling information.


Deborah 4 Bulgarian Orphans said...

Thank you for doing this wonderful write-up on our humanitarian efforts in Bulgarian orphanages! I actually just got back from Bulgaria where we visited children from 14 orphanages. Musicians Sam Payne and Mindy Gledhill also came on the trip and performed to the kids. They, along with Peter Breinholt, will be putting on a benefit concert (as you mentioned) in the Fall. The concert will not be held at BYU, as originally planned. We are still looking for a venue in Utah to be donated.

I would love for you to include Kelly King Anderson's name as one of the return missionaries who help with our efforts. She is a trustee of our organization and has helped tremendously. She was also on this last trip to BG.

Again, thank you so much for giving exposure to our efforts.

Onward in the service of the Lord,
Deborah Dushku Gardner
One Heart Bulgaria,

Evans Fam said...

What wonderful exposure for One Heart Bulgaria. Thank you for posting this article and for all the wonderful things mentioned.