Village Church Members Need Food - Learn Fishy Business

  • 27 July 2011

President and Sister Fata in Helping Hands vests, with President and Sister Tom and Villagers

"If you give a man a fish he lives for a day but if you teach him how to fish he lives forever."

There is a common saying about effective humanitarian aid:“If you give a man a fish he lives for a day but if you teach him how to fish he lives forever.”

This is a story about one such event. In a remote village on an island in the delta near the mouth of the Miaru River in Kukipi, Moveave in Papua New Guinea, lives a group of Latter-day Saints. The village is two hours by outboard boat from the nearest road. In this village the people live at subsistence level and the only crops that they can grow are bananas, breadfruit and cassava. They also fish with fishing lines and collect mud crabs. During the dry season, they can also grow pumpkin and sweet potato but unfortunately the island is often covered with salt water when there are king tides or floods. This has resulted in the land being non-productive.

Branch President Rodney Tom, in trying to care for his members, would frequently take the long trip to Port Moresby to visit Mission President Meliula Fata, to ask for food assistance paid for from fast offering. This trip required him to take a two-hour boat ride, and then at least five hours on a PMV (public motor vehicle), which is a truck with boards to sit on down each side. The PMV's are jammed-packed with people and goods for sale at the various markets along the way.

At the end of 2010, President Tom made one such trip and returned with a load of supplies. When this ran out after only a few weeks, he returned to see President Fata to again to ask for help. Once again, President Tom returned to his village with supplies to feed the members. Unfortunately, these supplies did not last very long and, so, the branch president again made the trek to see the mission president.

When President Fata saw him arrive once again with cap in hand he was very concerned and called him into his office and said, “President, I will not be able to give you any food again. I cannot keep giving your people supplies every few weeks. You have to work at becoming self-reliant.” President Fata was then inspired to say: “What I will do for your people is to buy three fishing nets and you can then catch many fish to feed everyone.” These fishing nets were quite expensive and much above the means of the village members to pay for. President Fata immediately took the branch president to the store and sent him on his way with three nets.

About six weeks later, President Fata contacted President Tom, to ask him how the nets were working out. President Tom replied that they had not helped the members. President Fata was quite puzzled and asked: “Why? What happened?”

President Tom replied: “When I returned to the village we had a meeting and the members decided that the nets should be given to three individuals.”

President Fata, now becoming a little agitated, responded: “Why did you do that? Didn't we agree that they would remain the property of the branch and all would share in their use and that you would manage their use.”

President Tom replied: “The people believed that we should follow the precedence that had been set by other donations that went to individuals.”

President Fata responded in a stern voice: “This is not what we had agreed to. You do not deserve the nets. Collect them and bring them back to the Mission Office.”

President Tom commented on how he felt quite dejected but was obedient to his priesthood leader and returned to Port Moresby with the nets. He wondered how the members would ever become self-reliant. President Fata gathered the nets and, after counselling with President Tom for some time, was inspired to try again and said to President Tom: “Take the nets back to your village and I will buy you two more. However, I will also write a letter for you to read out to the members that will advise them on how the nets must be used.”

The letter instructed the members that the nets did not belong to any one individual. It also gave three points that had to be followed by the branch: a) use them to gather food for all of the members, b) pay tithing on the Kukipi Branch fish containers proceeds and c) help the poor and needy.

Some months passed and, one morning, President Fata saw President Tom at the gate of the mission compound, speaking with the guards. President Fata thought: “Oh no! Don't tell me he is back for more food”. President Fata then rushed up to him and asked: “What are you doing here? What do you want?”

President Tom replied: “Nothing President, I have come to buy three more nets with the money we have earned selling our excess fish.”

President Tom then went on to explain that the extra fish had enabled the villagers to buy vegetables, save funds and pay their tithing. The village had so impressed the Fisheries Department with their success that they are now in discussions with them about a project to buy a boat.

One of the major outcomes of this success is the belief that the villagers have that they can improve their quality of life and become far more self-sufficient. The members are now thinking about what other projects they could do together that will enhance their self-reliance. Such projects include smoking the fish so that they can take them to markets further afield and obtaining sewing machines that can be used by the sisters to make clothing.

Following this success, President Fata is reaching out to other branches in remote communities and he is teaching them the same principle of self-reliance along with providing the same initial help. He hopes that, through this example, the people will pick up the principle of self-reliance quickly.

Marion G Romney, a member of the First Presidency of the Church, once said: “Many programs have been set up by well-meaning individuals to aid those in need. However, many of those programs are designed with the short-sighted objective of 'helping people' as opposed to 'helping people help themselves'. ”

This story is a wonderful example of the inspired humanitarian program of the Church of helping people to be self-reliant. However, it does require the individuals involved to be committed and be prepared to do the hard work if they want the rewards.