Village Church Members Learn Fishy Business

  • 6 August 2011

President and Sister Fata in Helping Hands vests, with President and Sister Tom and some villagers.

Article Highlights

  • In Papua New Guinea, it took three nets and two tries for Latter-day Saints to learn the eternal principle of self-reliance.

"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'" —Marion G. Romney (1897–1988), “The Celestial Nature of Self-Reliance,” Ensign, June 1984, 3

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally posted on the Church’s official Australia site on July 27, 2011.

It was the end of 2010 and Kukipi Branch President Rodney Tom, cap in hand, stood in front of the mission president’s home in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea once more. This time, the food supplies Mission President Meliula Fata had given him had lasted only a few weeks.

President Tom had made the customary 100-mile (160 km) trip many times before, taking a two-hour boat ride and then spending at least five hours on a public motor vehicle (PMV)—a truck with boards down each side for sitting that is typically packed with people and goods for sale at the various markets along the way.

The reason was to secure supplies for his small congregation, located on an island in the delta near the mouth of the Miaru River in Kukipi, Moveave, in Papua New Guinea.

In Kukipi 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 saltwater when there are king tides (unusually high tides that occur in the winter time around the full moon) or floods. This has resulted in the land being non-productive.

The members needed food, and President Fata had frequently disbursed it from the Church’s stores, but this time was different.

President Fata called the branch president into his office and said, “ 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 provide the branch with three fishing nets, so the members could catch enough fish to feed everyone. Such fishing nets are quite expensive and would normally be above the means of the villagers.

Branch President Tom went away three nets richer, and President Fata was confident the Kukipi Branch’s problems would be solved, but only six weeks later, President Tom reported that the members were no better off.

“Why? What happened?” President Fata asked.

President Tom replied that the branch members had followed the precedence that had been set by other donations that went to individuals and given the nets to three individuals.

President Fata called the branch president back to the mission office, along with the nets.

President Tom said he felt unhappy and wondered how the members would ever become self-reliant.

In counseling with President Fata, however, they decided to try again. President Fata instructed President Tom to take the nets back to the village and said he would buy two more nets. President Fata also wrote a letter for President Tom to read to the members, explaining how the nets would have to 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:

  • Use them to gather food for all of the members
  • Pay tithing on the proceeds
  • Help the poor and needy

Several months passed, but one morning, President Fata saw President Tom at the gate again.

President Tom said he thought, “Oh no! Don't tell me he is back for more food.”

President Tom was not back for more food. He had returned to buy three more nets with the money the branch members had made from selling their 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 local fisheries department that they were in discussions about a project to buy a boat.

The villagers now say they believe that they can improve their quality of life and become far more self-sufficient. The members are 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 away and obtaining sewing machines that can be used by the sisters to make clothing for themselves and for sale.

Following this success, President Fata is reaching out to other branches in remote communities, teaching them the principle of self-reliance. He hopes the example of the Kukipi branch will inspire others to pick up the principle of self-reliance quickly.

Marion G. Romney (1897–1988), a member of the First Presidency, 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'“ (“The Celestial Nature of Self-Reliance,” Ensign, June 1984, 3).

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.

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.“