LDS Charities’ Work with Women, Children Highlighted at United Nations Side Event

Contributed By By Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News assistant editor

  • 8 March 2013

At a United Nations side event featuring the Church’s humanitarian work, Sharon Eubank shows a delegation of women from the Republic of Guinea a doll used by LDS medical trainers.  Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.

Article Highlights

  • Leaders and volunteers of LDS Charities spoke at a side event held in conjunction with the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women in New York on March 6.
  • The spirit of LDS Charities, to provide resources and training to locals, traces back to pioneer women who were sent east to earn medical degrees and then returned to educate other LDS women.
  • Neonatal resuscitation and wheelchair distribution are just two programs that help women by granting them access to training and services normally withheld from women.

“We believe all of us are children of God. Every single person is valuable and precious. If we can have any part in saving a baby’s life, that is our goal.” —Nancy C. Hughes, LDS humanitarian medical trainer


Work completed more than 150 years ago—by pioneer women who were poor and had many barriers—became the underpinnings of the work of LDS Charities today, said the organization’s executive director at a United Nation’s side event on March 6 featuring the Church’s humanitarian outreach to women worldwide.

“As I look out over a world that is full of problems and full of difficulties and barriers, to see what they did 150 years ago inspires me to be able to continue to keep going,” said Sharon Eubank, also a former member of the Relief Society general board.

Sister Eubank was one of four speakers at a Church-sponsored side event, held in conjunction with the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women.

Other presenters included Ambassador Charles T. Ntwaagae, Botswana’s permanent representative to the United Nations; and Dr. Dennis C. and Nancy C. Hughes, LDS humanitarian medical trainers. Anna Thompson-Quaye, deputy director of the GAVI Alliance, a Geneva-based agency that provides vaccines to children in poor countries, was scheduled to participate but was delayed in Washington, D.C., by inclement weather.

Sister Eubank expressed appreciation for those on the program “who make the work of LDS Charities possible on both a national and grassroots level.”

During the past quarter-century, the Church has provided assistance to nearly 30 million people in 179 countries. Much of that assistance directly benefits women and children.

But Sister Eubank began her remarks talking about a humanitarian effort that pre-dates LDS Charities. She spoke of the Salt Lake Valley in 1870, then home to some 85,000 people. Diseases like influenza, smallpox, measles, diarrhea, and pneumonia, along with inexperienced midwifery and home births, contributed to a very high infant mortality rate.

Sister Eubank said Eliza R. Snow, Relief Society general president, went to President Brigham Young with a visionary plan, requesting that six women be sent to the Eastern United States and trained in medicine. They would return and train others. Sister Snow told the Church President, “We have got to do something to invest in the next generation,” Sister Eubank said.

One 28-year-old woman, Ellis Shipp, left Salt Lake City for medical school. She was expecting a baby herself, found a job guarding the cadaver lab at night, and studied by candlelight.

“In 1879 she came back to Salt Lake City with a medical degree,” Sister Eubank said. “Over her lifetime she delivered 5,000 babies. And she trained 500 midwives to be certified and licensed. She was the beginning of the drop of the infant mortality rate in the [Territory] of Utah.”

Sister Eubank said she hoped that pioneer lesson would be relevant “for all of you in this room, who are working on big, important things that have a lot of barriers—and violence against women is one of these things.”

Sister Eubank said violence against women around the world isn’t just physical, but it can be structural.

“If women don’t have access to health care because the roads are too dangerous, if they are turned away from care because they are too poor or too disabled, if there is no equipment to save their newborn, if no one believes girls need wheelchairs—they are bullied by a societal structure that is so much bigger and meaner than they have power to fight,” she said.

Showing a picture of Ellis Shipp, Sister Eubank added, “She does not look extraordinary. She looks like an ordinary woman of 1879. But she did extraordinary things for that time that are still going on now.”

Sister Eubank said LDS Charities’ great strength—which may be unique in the world—is the organization’s ability to combine big vision and strategic multilateral relationships with grassroots voluntarism to tackle intractable problems.

The work of LDS Charities—given in the form of emergency response after disasters and through major initiatives that provide, among other things, clean water, medical training, food production, vision care, immunizations, and wheelchairs to those in need—“cannot exist without local volunteers,” she said.

During a side event, held in conjunction with the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women, Sharon Eubank, executive director of LDS Charities, speaks March 6 on the Church’s humanitarian outreach. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.

During the program, Dr. and Sister Hughes and Ambassador Ntwaagae focused on the practical application and impact of two of those initiatives.

Sister Eubank said the work of Dr. Ellis Shipp has evolved into the modern-day work by LDS Charities on neonatal resuscitation training.

“There are more than 1 million infants every year that die of asphyxia,” she said. Many doctors know how to save these babies, but do not have the equipment. “Think about what that is like,” she said.

To help address the problem, LDS Charities donates medical equipment to hospitals and couples such as Dr. and Sister Hughes who train medical professionals. Last year, LDS Charities trained 28,000 medical professionals in 48 countries.

Sister Hughes said she and her husband are often asked why they would want to go to developing nations and donate their time for neonatal resuscitation training.

“I have an answer for you,” she said. “We believe all of us are children of God. Every single person is valuable and precious. If we can have any part in saving a baby’s life, that is our goal.”

When a baby dies that could be saved, it is almost like a violent situation for the mother who has lost her children, she said. “We want to be able to teach doctors, nurses, and midwives throughout the world how to resuscitate babies—the specific steps in a logical order so that these babies can live.”

Sister Hughes said LDS Charities gives these medical professionals equipment and confidence.

Dr. Hughes, using a training doll, demonstrated some of the equipment and training given to these professionals.

“We know our work is very valuable,” Sister Hughes said. “The distribution of medical equipment through LDS Charities and the skills that are learned help babies live.”

Ambassador Charles T. Ntwaagae of Botswana speaks during U.N. side event on wheelchair donations from LDS Charities to his country. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.

To those attending the U.N. conference, she added, “Our goals are your goals.

“We can work together to make the world an even better place.”

Ambassador Ntwaagae said Botswana is one of the countries that has, over the years, benefited tremendously from the support of LDS Charities—especially when it comes to wheelchair distribution. Later this year, Botswana will be among the first African countries to implement the newly released World Health Organization wheelchair training curricula. The multi-year effort between the Botswana Ministry of Health and LDS Charities trains physical therapists and technicians to properly fit wheelchair recipients and then provides a variety of mobility aids for distribution.

There are 45 million people in the world who need wheelchairs but who don’t have access to a wheelchair, said Sister Eubank, adding that because of gender bias, men and boys get 70 percent of this equipment. “When we distribute wheelchairs, we look for partnering organizations that have a commitment to address this gender bias,” she said.

Ambassador Ntwaagae expressed appreciation for years of support from LDS Charities.

“This particular commitment has been very helpful in uplifting the lives of our vulnerable population, especially the women and children,” he said.

Further, he said, as a country, Botswana is committed to the concept of social inclusion and integration, including people with disabilities. However, he added, “We continue to face challenges in terms of a shortage of equipment, including mobility equipment such as wheelchairs.”

The shortage has been exacerbated by the global economy, he noted. Botswana, a country dependent on diamond revenue, has suffered greatly in recent years.

He said he wanted to take the opportunity while participating in the U.N. side event “in conveying the deep appreciation of the government and the people of Botswana for the support LDS Charities has given to our country through the provision of wheelchairs over the years. I want to tell you we have made effective use of this equipment. … The majority of the recipients of the equipment have been disabled women.”

Sister Eubank closed by asking those in attendance to work with her to “inoculate people at an early age against violence and the acceptance of violence because it is like a disease.”

“We can commit that we will speak and learn ourselves and then train eight other people by our personal example,” she said. “We can find ways for inclusion and rehabilitation to bring people back into the mainstream of society. It is only in those skills that we have a clear road to be able to go forward in this way. It is important for every person in this room.”

At a United Nations side event, Dr. Dennis C. Hughes, a humanitarian medical volunteer, delivers a presentation highlighting LDS Charities’ work to train medical professionals in neonatal resuscitation. In 2012, LDS Charities trained 28,000 medical professionals in 48 countries. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.