As a recently returned missionary, Brother Viwe Xozwa’s schedule was demanding. The education-driven convert in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, attended school from 8 a.m. to noon, worked from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., then studied until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. on a regular basis.
Brother Xozwa was never bothered or upset by the busy schedule he maintained, though. In fact, he was grateful just for the opportunity he had to study and learn, which was made possible by others’ generosity.
Brother Xozwa is a recipient of a Perpetual Education Fund (PEF) loan, which made obtaining an education a more realistic possibility than it would have otherwise been. Now a 27-year-old computer engineer and the executive secretary in his stake, he attributes many of his blessings to the PEF.
“I would not be where I am right now in my life if that inspired program was not established,” he said.
President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) announced the PEF at general conference in March 2001. The program was designed to help young people obtain skills that would allow them and their families to rise above poverty and make meaningful contributions to society and the Church.
In many nations throughout the world, young missionaries with modest backgrounds faithfully serve the Lord. In his address, President Hinckley spoke of the challenges these young people face when they return home:
“Their hopes are high. But many of them have great difficulty finding employment because they have no skills. They sink right back into the pit of poverty from which they came” (“The Perpetual Education Fund,” Ensign, May 2001, 51).
Based on the same principles as the Perpetual Emigration Fund, which enabled Saints to travel to the Salt Lake Valley in the 1800s, Church leaders hope the PEF program will help end persistent poverty.
By providing loans for vocational, technical, and professional training at a low interest rate, the program gives ambitious participants between the ages of 18 and 30 a chance to learn employment skills as well as self-reliance and independence without accruing a lot of debt.
Elder John K. Carmack, an emeritus member of the Quorum of the Seventy and Executive Director of the PEF, said the program facilitates learning and advancement for young people who just need a chance and some direction.
“We help the young people dream, we help them plan their careers, and we help them achieve,” Elder Carmack said.
While he always planned to attend college, Brother Xozwa and his mother lacked the funds to pay for school. A conventional bank loan was a possibility, though higher interest rates would have made it very costly and would have taken a long time to pay off. Instead, Brother Xozwa heard about the PEF from a Church Educational System couple in his area. He applied for and received a $1,150 PEF loan and enrolled in computer engineering classes at Damelin College in Port Elizabeth.
After about a year of study, Brother Xozwa was offered a job at an IT consulting firm. The company waited for him to finish up the school year and supported him in his continued studies. Because of his employment, he was able to pay off his loan the following year, and the company has sponsored his further studies for the past four years in disciplines such as labor relations, corporate governance, business administration and management, and advanced project management.
“The PEF program gave me the initial kickstart that I needed, and the rest I could do on my own,” he said. “It gave me an initial boost; everything else just opened up.”
Since President Hinckley first announced the program seven years ago, about 28,000 young people, approximately half of them men and half of them women, have received PEF loans. The program premiered in Mexico, Peru, and Chile, and has now expanded to assist people in 40 countries throughout the world, including Mongolia, Cambodia, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, some Pacific islands, and virtually all of Latin America.
The program is funded both by members, who allocate funds toward the program on their tithes and offerings slips, and by friends of the Church who believe in the program’s purpose. The money collected (the principal) is never spent, with loans being made only from the interest earned on the principal.
“The members and friends [of the Church] have been extremely generous,” Elder Carmack said, adding that both President Hinckley and President Monson have called the program’s success “a miracle.”
“We have grown,” Elder Carmack said, and he expects the Church will see “more growth ahead.”
Knowing where his loan came from made Brother Xozwa dedicate himself completely to doing well in school and paying off his loan. He wanted to use the generous donations the best way he could.
“I realized these were sacred funds. Others had made a contribution to my education, so it was my responsibility to show appreciation by studying hard,” he said. “The money that was granted me was not mine to play around with. I was given the opportunity to make something of my life, to kickstart a good future, and it was my responsibility to grab that opportunity with both hands and not fail.”
In addition to giving young adults financial opportunities, the PEF enables them to grow in the gospel and strengthen their countries and other members in need of an opportunity for education. Some graduates of the program have gone on to become leaders of the Church, Elder Carmack said, and are fortifying the Church in their countries.
“As faithful members of the Church, they will pay their tithes and offerings, and the Church will be much the stronger for their presence in the areas where they live,” President Hinckley said (Ensign, May 2001, 51).
As students repay their loans, the money goes back into the fund to aid other individuals who need help financing their education, making it a “perpetual” fund.
Brother Xozwa understood this principle and was motivated to help others receive the same opportunities he had.
“The Lord is giving you the opportunity to progress, but also to help the next person,” he said. “It was my responsibility to repay the money as soon as possible so that the next person could have an equally good chance to study and progress. Think of how many people you can influence if you use the funds correctly. You can do wonders not just for you but for other people.”
His experience has taught him leadership skills and independence in addition to self-reliance and the ability to keep commitments.
“It’s not just education. It’s not just getting a diploma or getting a degree. It’s not just a career. It’s so much more than that. It opens doors for you to grow individually,” he said.
Brother Xozwa said he will be forever grateful for the generosity extended to him that made a world of difference in his life.
“I would love one day to meet the person or the people who contributed to the program in the initial stages just to say thank you,” he said. “Maybe it was pocket change for them, but it changed generations. It has changed my family.”