|Perpetual Education Fund: The Inspired Program Rolls On
By Patricia S. Norwood, Church Magazines
Rodrigo Fontt of Osorno, Chile, has experienced the fulfillment of prophecy. His life has been changed just the way President Gordon B. Hinckley said lives would be changed when he announced the Perpetual Education Fund (PEF) to the Church three years ago.
Six months after its inception, President Hinckley said, "With greatly improved opportunities, they [young men and women] will step out of the cycle of poverty which they and those before them have known for so long. They have served missions, and they will continue to serve in the Church. They will become leaders in this great work in their native lands" ("Reaching Down to Lift Another," Liahona, Jan. 2002, 62; Ensign, Nov. 2001, 53-54).
While serving in the Chile Santiago West Mission, Brother Fontt worked in the mission office, where he learned what it was like to work in an administrative position. He enjoyed it, but in 2000, a year before the announcement of the Perpetual Education Fund, Brother Fontt returned home where he faced limited prospects for the future. Many returned missionaries around the world find themselves in similar situations. They have the desire but not the skills needed to rise above the poverty they and their progenitors have experienced.
The Perpetual Education Fund has been established to help those young men and women who need an education to improve their future but who are unable to pay for it. In the beginning, participation in the program was limited to five countries--Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru, and the Philippines--until the fund was well-established. It now reaches into additional countries, including Argentina, Bolivia, Cambodia, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, India, Jamaica, Mongolia, Paraguay, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
President Hinckley reported that after the first six months of the program, the fund had already helped 1,200 young Latter-day Saints. By October 2004, more than 15,000 students had received assistance. The participants have earned or are earning degrees or certificates that will help them to better provide for a family and serve more effectively in the Church. It will enable them to obtain the promised blessings from the payment of tithes and offerings.
Applicants to the program take a course called "Planning for Success." In the course, many of them discover that they can achieve their goals without needing a loan. After hearing about the program and taking the course, Brother Fontt qualified and applied for a PEF loan and began working toward a degree in finance and administration. Though he now has a wife and newborn child and is working full-time to support them, he is currently in the third year of his educational program. He has become a leader in the Church, serving as bishop of the Antillanca Ward, Osorno Chile Stake.
Bishop Fontt is just one of many working hard to improve their lives. With his education, he and his wife feel that they are progressing not only temporally but also spiritually. They are achieving goals they would not have otherwise been able to reach.
Many students experience improved employment opportunities even before they earn their diplomas. Some large firms hire students before they graduate because the firms can see success in the studentsÕ futures. For participants in the countries currently served by the program, the average increase in income after graduation is 400 percent. PEF students also have the opportunity to grow spiritually while in school as they participate in their local institute program.
The Perpetual Education Fund has another goal aside from helping young Latter-day Saints get an education. While the PEF is helping more than 15,000 students, it is also bringing blessings to the thousands of members around the world who contribute to the fund.
"Every day, every week . . . small contributions arrive to build the fund. If there were no other result than this outpouring of love and sacrifice, we would have to conclude that the fund had increased the spirit of sacrifice among the Saints everywhere in the world, thus exerting a powerful influence for good among them," said Elder John K. Carmack, managing director of the Perpetual Education Fund ("The Perpetual Education Fund: A Bright Ray of Hope," Liahona, Jan. 2004, 38; Ensign, Jan. 2004, 42).
Thousands of members have contributed through their local priesthood leaders, who receive small sums from Primary children, up to much larger contributions from more affluent donors. Some have made monthly commitments. Others have given up savings for long-planned-for trips or home improvement projects. The Lord recognizes every sacrifice.
"We again invite all who wish to participate to make a contribution, large or small," President Hinckley has said. "We can then extend this great work which will make it possible for those of faith and latent ability to rise to economic independence as faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" (Liahona, Jan. 2002, 62; Ensign, Nov. 2001, 54).
With the help of this inspired program, members are leaving poverty behind, growing in the gospel, and, through the repayment of their loans, helping to provide a brighter future to others. They are evidence of a prophecy being fulfilled.