While Africa is one of the fastest growing areas of converts for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, proselyting and maintaining over 900 congregations is just part of the impact the Church has in these countries. In the last ten years alone the LDS church has:
·Distributed nearly 40,000 wheelchairs as well as trained people to construct a wheelchair from basic bicycle parts.
·Aided more than 130,000 Africans with their vision treatment program. Volunteer ophthalmologists assist medical care providers around the world with training and equipment to treat simple vision problems.
· Been able to provide access to clean water for four million Africans in 17 different countries through the Church’s clean water initiatives.
· In partnership with other world health organizations, trained over 53,000 Africans in neonatal resuscitation techniques.
In a special article for CNN Dagfinn Høybråten, vice president of the Norwegian Parliament and chairman of the GAVI Alliance Board, wrote, “LDS Charities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints funded a $16.4 million measles and rubella initiative and supported it with 64,000 volunteers who have provided more than 800,000 hours of service in 37 countries. Mormon volunteers in Ghana, for example, arranged for 1.5 million text messages to be sent to fellow citizens in support of the country’s launch of vaccines against pneumonia and rotavirus, two diseases that together claim the lives of more than 2 million children around the world every year.”
The LDS Church strives to improve the quality of life in many countries around the world. In part this is accomplished through spiritual edification, humanitarian aid, education, and even teaching self-reliance. One such program aimed at self-reliance is the Perpetual Education Fund (PEF), begun in 2001 by then President of the LDS church, Gordon B. Hinckley. This program was designed to help families in developing nations escape the cycle of poverty and become more self-sufficient.
Funded through contributions individuals receive loans through PEF to help pay for training or advanced education. According to the MormonNewsroom.org, “With better skills, the student then pays back the loan to the fund at a low interest rate. Since 2001, around 3,000 people have benefited from the program in Africa.” For schooling alone the average African student will need to borrow an average of $1,200 a year. For citizens in underdeveloped countries this can be a staggering amount to attempt to fund on their own.
In Africa, PEF currently helps students in Botswana, Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia, Namibia, Swaziland, Lesotho and Madagascar. Unemployment rates in these countries can range anywhere from 10 to 95 percent, but through better training and higher education income and job marketability can significantly increase. But PEF is more than about money; it’s about providing integrity, self-reliance, and the potential for leadership in homes and communities.
There are no quick and easy fixes to the problems in Africa, but through these initiatives the LDS church not only provides some relief of temporal suffering but also is helping some of the poorest Africans help themselves. They in turn can help their families and fellow citizens. It’s nothing less than a win-win situation.