The terraced mountainsides and irregularly shaped valleys of northern Ethiopia, now parched and gray, contradict the fact that this was once a green, fertile land. An occasional shrub is all that remains of the sea of green where nomads, moving north with the rainy season, once grazed their flocks. Drought has stripped the pasture land and killed off the flocks, and the wanderers have reluctantly traded unlimited land for tiny farm plots or government aid. Without water, hopes for prospering—even for survival—erode along with the country’s precious topsoil.
But in Geddobar, in Ethiopia’s Wello Province, there is hope. Here, in a drought-threatened mountain valley 560 kilometers north of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city, is a small scale irrigation project initiated by the Church. It is just one of the humanitarian service projects funded with donations from Church members. (See accompanying stories for details on other projects.)
In 1985, two letters from the First Presidency called upon Church members in the United States and Canada to join in special fasts. The funds donated during these fasts would be “dedicated for the use of victims of famine and other causes resulting in hunger and privation among people of Africa, and possibly some other areas.” The letters promised that “all funds contributed … will … assist the hungry and needy in distressed areas regardless of Church membership.” In their desire to help, the Saints donated almost (U.S.) $11 million.
Immediately following the first special fast in January 1985, Church leaders identified “organizations of unquestioned integrity” that the Church could assist in distributing food, tents, and medical supplies to suffering victims in Ethiopia and neighboring African nations. During the remainder of 1985 and most of 1986, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services, and the Cooperative for American Relief Everywhere (CARE) delivered the Church-provided relief supplies.
Helping People to Help Themselves
In the spirit of the Church’s welfare services philosophy of helping people to help themselves, however, the Brethren determined that some money should also go into projects that would promote long-term self-reliance. So a portion of the donations were used for several projects like the one in Geddobar. Most of these activities, carried out in Ethiopia, Chad, Niger, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Ghana, have focused on water and agricultural development as a protection against future drought. Monies from the second special fast held in November 1985 are currently being allocated for projects in other areas of Africa, as well as on other continents where severe need exists.
Under the direction of Africare (a Washington, D.C.-based volunteer organization), work in Geddobar began in mid-1985 to control the water from a spring-fed mountain stream to provide irrigation to this valley of a thousand acres. The effort had been initiated by the Church in response to the 1984–85 African drought that left millions without food and resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths.
The completion of the Ethiopian water project is a dream come true, both for those who have given and for the nearly 1, 650 farmer families who have worked hard to help make it a reality. When it is completed this summer, these farmers will have contributed more than 200,000 man-days of labor to the project. Sacrifice is not uncommon; some workers walk two to three hours from their mountain homes to put in a ten-and-a-half-hour workday, then walk home again. The average worker contributes five to eight days of labor per month on the project. A food-for-work system provides each worker with about three kilos of grain for a day’s labor.
While high technology and modern equipment could have been used to shorten the construction time and lessen the human effort, the project was deliberately designed to be completed by residents using local materials and local tools. This allowed the people to help themselves and to develop a pride of ownership in the finished product. This approach also helped to keep the cost of the project low.
As a result, local farmers dug all of the nearly twenty-four kilometers of canals and did most of the site preparation for the construction of the diversion dam on the river. The technology of the system is simple enough that maintenance can be handled locally by the farmers.
The Ethiopian government has quickly realized the value of having water available year-round in the valley, and it uses the project as an example for other humanitarian agencies to follow. In the words of one government leader, “This is a very important project, and we want others to duplicate it. It provides life-long independence for these people—they can double or triple their output. It is a successful experiment for us—low cost technology, using the labor of local people themselves.”
The Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture has shown its confidence in the project by providing funds to open a dairy cooperative nearby. A small dairy herd has already been established.
The farmers are also enthusiastic. Even before the system was completed, a temporary ditch was cut to provide water to a sixteen-hectare section of land. The farmers planted groves of papaya, guava, and banana trees, and prepared the land for a variety of vegetables. Such a risk simply would not have been taken earlier for fear of insufficient water during the growing season.
Elder Alexander B. Morrison, of the First Council of the Seventy and a member of the United Kingdom/Africa/Ireland Area Presidency, says of the project, “In essence, what the project does is help ensure the future, insofar as food is concerned, for ten thousand people in three villages. They and their children and their children’s children will have the means, come what may in the way of rain, to grow the food they need, in greater amount and variety than ever before.” In light of the fact that the world community has called for massive contributions of food aid again this year, the significance of the Church’s efforts to provide perennial year-round water for these communities is even more significant.
In Times of Crisis
While 1985’s Church-wide fasts were a new approach to assisting the needy, the Church has always helped people in times of crisis. Following World War II, tons of food, clothing, and medicines were sent to citizens of war-torn Europe, only a portion of whom were Church members. In 1954, the Church joined with the United Churches Ionian Relief project in Utah to assist the needy in Greece, furnishing the major part of the donated commodities from its welfare program stores. In 1906 the Church sent wheat from the granaries of the Relief Societies to aid the Chinese who were suffering from famine. Throughout the past twenty years the Church has repeatedly provided aid during times of crisis to people throughout the world.
The Lord’s admonition to his Church to help the needy is clear: “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men.” (D&C 121:45.) The people of Nephi, as described in the first chapter of Alma, were living this principle: “And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted. … And thus, in their prosperous circumstances, they did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished … whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need.” (Alma 1:27, 30.)
Suffering knows no geographic or political boundaries. Church humanitarian assistance is part of our obligation to our fellowman, no matter what their religion or form of government. Reporting on a visit to Ethiopia, Bishop Glenn L. Pace, second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric wrote, “Our contributions helped all people regardless of their political affiliation. When Elder M. Russell Ballard (of the Council of the Twelve) and I visited the area, we didn’t see Communists, Marxists or Capitalists, but hungry people, all sons and daughters of God.” As we look beyond giving tangible things to sharing the gospel with “all nations, kindreds, tongues and people” (see Mosiah 15:28), we more fully realize that the gospel of Jesus Christ goes beyond man-made boundaries.
Volunteer Time and Talents
Generally speaking, Church-sponsored humanitarian projects are limited to: (1) serious life-threatening emergencies such as those brought about by natural disasters and which require immediate, direct relief; and (2) chronic conditions brought about by poverty, poor health, or unsafe environments that may be improved by self-help development. Church funding of such projects is limited only to the resources donated by members for these purposes.
The Church, as an organization, is limited in its means to help all those in need. But leaders encourage Church members to take an active role, as citizens, in worthy humanitarian projects in their own communities. In addition to donating cash and commodities where possible, they can volunteer time and talents to the projects. Many Church members want to donate their skills, and communities are in need of the types of services Church members can provide. In addition, service opportunities are developing as the Church works with professional agencies to ease suffering worldwide.
Such was the case recently for Brother Dewey Petersen and his wife, Patricia, who volunteered to spend several months in Nigeria setting up equipment and training local residents to drill wells. The Petersens, from Bountiful, Utah, served as volunteers for Africare on a Church-sponsored project. Private non-profit organizations welcome the volunteer efforts of Church members.
The Church has set an example for us in reaching out in an unconditional way to provide charitable service. The challenge is ours as individual members of the Church to continue to give service to others without expecting anything in return. As we serve and help others spontaneously, we experience the Christlike spirit of the gospel.
Wadis Development in Chad
Wadis are dry river beds or low areas of the desert typically thought of as oases. Surface water in these areas is usually too salty for human or animal consumption or even for irrigation, but the areas are fertile and crops can be grown using water from shallow wells (shadoofs) within the wadis.
Until recently, the wadis have been used only at “wet” times of the year by nomadic tribesmen herding cattle and sheep. But heavy livestock losses during droughts are forcing Chadians to develop the agricultural potential of the wadis. A typical wadi must now be the main food source for three to four hundred people.
The traditional way to irrigate in the wadis is to draw water from the shadoof in a sack that holds only a few liters. Because the method is so time consuming and ineffective, irrigation has not been widely used. Working with CARE, however, the Church is using humanitarian service funds to develop more efficient—but practical—water systems. As part of this project, a larger well system has been designed. Camels draw eighty liter sacks of water from the well. The sacks empty into a trough, then the water flows into a canal system that irrigates a variety of crops, including corn, potatoes, sorghum, and peppers.
Conservation practices are also being initiated in the wadis. Mud bricks, rather than wood from date palms, are being used to build shadoofs. The trees serve as a windbreak and reduce the chances of desert sands drifting into the wadis. Eventually, windbreaks for the wadis and wood for shadoof construction will come from drought resistent tree species being developed locally.
Community Development in Bolivia’s Mountains
The Church has recently joined with the Andean Children’s Foundation to help residents of the Bolivian mountains improve their communities. In this project, development specialists meet with community leaders to determine the needs of their village. The specialists then assist the leaders in organizing projects for meeting those needs. In addition, the Andean Children’s Foundation helps obtain the technical resources needed to carry out projects.
This process teaches residents to think through their needs and work together to improve their communities. It also gives them a sense of accomplishment and builds confidence in their abilities to make future improvements.
For example, the leaders of the village of Sora Sora wanted to improve agricultural methods so that they could grow more crops. The foundation helped the people come up with a low-cost plan for digging wells, building windmills to pump water, constructing storage tanks to store that water, digging canals to irrigate crops, and building greenhouses for growing vegetables that cannot survive the cold of the high Andes. Villagers built the system and now maintain it themselves. As the people see the success of the community project, they are beginning to adapt it to their own farms.
Building schools, training community health workers, and developing new food sources are some of the other projects villages are now undertaking with help from the foundation.
Asian Refugee Vocational Development
Since 1975, thousands of Asian refugees have come to the United States to rebuild their lives. But the challenges of language, differences in culture, and incompatible vocational skills have left a high percentage of these people unemployed or underemployed.
Working with the North America West Area Presidency and the Welfare Services staff in California, the Church in assisting Latter-day Saint Asian refugees—and their nonmember friends—to develop language and vocational skills and to find adequate employment. Volunteers in local stakes teach orientation seminars, English language classes, and vocational skills such as hotel housekeeping, carpet laying, and basic computer operation. The volunteers also teach refugees about job interviewing, acceptable dress and health standards, and American work standards.
Participating stakes coordinate with the Church employment system to help identify potential employers as well as opportunities for group training.
Agroforestry in Niger
Niger, a country in the Sub-Saharan belt of Africa, has serious famine and drought conditions. The land can be farmed, but wind has blown away much of the topsoil.
Under the direction of CARE, funds Church members contributed during a special fast in 1985 have been used to help start nurseries in the Majia Valley in western Niger. Here villagers cultivate tree seedlings for windbreaks. Once the seedlings are big enough, they are transplanted to the villagers’ small farms to protect agricultural crops by preventing the wind from blowing away vital soil. The project has helped area farmers increase agriculture production by as much as 30 percent.
These agroforestry activities are being carried out in close cooperation with the Nigerian Forest Service to ensure continuity and long-term success. The project is one of the most successful of its kind in the Sub-Saharan regions of Africa.