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Mormons Team With Others to Care for People in Ethiopia

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are sometimes called Mormons, have a variety of humanitarian programs that serve both Mormons and non-Mormons. One program is LDS Charities, which works around the world to help anyone in need regardless of religion. There is no missionary work involved and often those being helped do not know it is Mormons who are helping them. Many of them have never even heard of Mormons.

famine infographic Mormons humanitarian workLast year, LDS Charities conducted 111 humanitarian aid projects. One of the most powerful is taking place in Ethiopia. People are streaming across the border from Somalia to escape the severe drought and the violence of a radical Islamic terrorist group. These immigrants place a heavy burden on the already struggling Ethiopians, but it is understood that they cannot return home. Camps have been created to house these refugees. Many humanitarian aid groups have come in to help, but they tend to focus on the camps and ignore the border villages, which also take in refugees who are competing for the same limited resources.

The Mormons are partnering with other organizations to provide assistance to these forgotten villages. One partner is International Relief and Development. They are a smaller and less well-known organization serving the border villagers. The force behind the project is a Muslim man named Abdulahi Muse. He grew up in these forgotten villages, but was fortunate enough to leave and get an education. Now he wants to help his people. He, with the help of the government, identified the twenty-two villages in most desperate need of help. His first goal was to give them sustainable sources of water. In the past, humanitarian groups would come in and build the water source themselves and then leave. Unfortunately, when the tanks broke, the people didn’t know how to fix it and didn’t own it anyway, so they were soon back where they started without water. Muse’s goals match those of Mormon humanitarian projects. Both want to give the people ownership and self-reliance. The two groups do not want the people dependent on charity forever. Muse planned to use the same method Mormons use—hire local villagers to build the tanks so they know how to do it and then train them to maintain the water systems. This provides employment, job skills, and self-reliance. When the charities are gone, the people will own the tank and be able to repair it without help. The plan required immediate water until the tanks were built. It also needed cement lined tanks because the plastic ones currently used wouldn’t withstand harsh weather.

The Mormons have worked with IRC for many years. They promised to bring in the needed water. Muse didn’t entirely trust the promise—he had received too many broken promises from other charities. However, the water began to arrive in just a few days and they received a commitment that it would continue for the ten months it would be needed. The Mormons paid for the trucks needed to continue the deliveries.

They also funded the tank-building project. Missionaries did not come into the region and few knew the Mormons were paying for their water and tanks. The people were proud to be able to earn a living helping their own village and to have control over their water source.

The Mormons also partnered with International Medical Corp., another less well-known charity. This group was trying to relieve suffering in the camps, which were filthy, without sufficient food, and which required people to go long distances for basic services. Too many children were dying. They asked the Mormons for funding to build additional latrines, a nutrition center, and a women’s center. The women’s center helped women who were victims of domestic violence and also helped mothers in need. As a result of this project, fewer children are dying of malnutrition and illness each month. The families are receiving medical care, adequate food, and sanitary conditions. Although no Mormons live in the region being helped, Mormons in larger cities in the area are assembling hygiene kits to help prevent illness.

While many charities step in to help the short-term challenges of a crisis, Mormons stay on when the immediate crisis ends and work on the long-term problems still being created. For instance, they are still in Haiti and Japan, long after the media has moved on and the majority of volunteers have gone to the next crisis. In Japan, there is still a struggle to put the fishermen back to work. The Mormons have helped to provide the equipment need to enable them to continue their careers and feed the people. In Haiti, housing is an ongoing problem, and this is one area in which the Mormons have been helping.

The church operates a number of humanitarian initiatives, including clean water, neonatal resuscitation, vision care, wheelchairs, food production, and immunizations. More than 9000 people, most retired, leave their homes and travel to developing nations without pay as humanitarian aid missionaries. Currently 179 countries receive ongoing humanitarian aid. Since the church began recording how much is spent on humanitarian work in 1985, the church has spent more than 1 billion dollars in humanitarian aid just through the humanitarian aid program. In addition to this program, there are other programs that aid those in need.

“Not only by precept did Jesus teach, but also by example. . . He stretched forth his hand that others might be lifted. . . Unaltered is the divine command to succor the weak and lift up the hands which hang down and strengthen the feeble knees. Each of us has the charge to be. . . a doer. . . lifter. . . There are those within the sphere of our own influence who, with outstretched hands, cry out: ‘Is there no balm in Gilead…?’ Each of us must answer” (Thomas S. Monson, “With Hand and Heart,” Ensign, Jan 1995, 2)

Learn more about LDS Charities.