“Individual freedom and citizenship responsibility depend upon the principle of helping the individual to help himself,” President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994), thirteenth President of the Church, said in his 1975 inaugural address of the Benson Institute Agriculture and Food Institute and Corporation, a Latter-day Saint Charities program.
Under that philosophy of self-reliance, the Benson Institute has worked with thousands of people to improve food production, nutrition, and health, increasing of quality of life for some of the world’s poor.
In 2009 members of the Benson Institute traveled to Ecuador, a country rich in agriculture. However, according to the World Health Organization, in this country of nearly 15 million people, 23 percent of children under age five are chronically malnourished. The efforts of the Benson Institute are helping lower that statistic as those involved work toward breaking the poverty cycle.
One woman, a mother of six, said before the Benson Institute came, it was often difficult to provide for her family: “It’s so sad to be a mother and be so poor that you can’t give your children a meal or a portion of bread each day,” she said.
The families working with the Benson Institute learned improved planting techniques, crop rotation, small animal farming, balanced nutrition, personal hygiene, and proper food preparation.
The hunger that was a daily trial for many has become less frequent with the implementation of new farming techniques. Families saw a dramatic increase in food production that allowed them to store their own food as well as sell their products for income. In addition, families experienced better health as their diet and sanitation improved. Eating the fruits of their labor from the garden has provided them with nutrients their diets previously lacked.
“We used to have children who didn’t perform,” a local teacher said. “After the program, the children learned much more quickly. Before, we had children who became ill frequently; after, the children no longer became ill. They used to sleep in class; afterwards, they no longer fell asleep in class. They had looked a lot more tired, but after the program they were much more healthy looking, with more energy.”
All of the Church’s welfare initiatives are based on proven principles of self-reliance. That along with the Benson Institute’s practice of building on decades of experience and knowledge continue to bless the lives of tens of thousands of people throughout the world.
View a video about the project in Ecuador online in English and Spanish at newsroom.lds.org/topic/humanitarian-services