Church Sends Aid to Ethiopia

“Church Sends Aid to Ethiopia,” Ensign, June 2003, 76–77

Church Sends Aid to Ethiopia

In response to one of the most widespread droughts in Ethiopia since the mid-1980s, Church Humanitarian Services has donated more than 3,000 tons (2,722 tonnes) of food to famine-stricken areas of the African nation. Included in the donation was a life-saving porridge to be given to the most severely malnourished children—the first donation of its kind in the current crisis.

“The assistance your organization has provided is critical,” says Mary Lewellen, director of USAID/Ethiopia. “While many donors provide cereals that are available in the market or in the communities for the adults, what is needed is food for the children.”

More than 11 million Ethiopians—roughly 20 percent of the nation’s population—are at immediate risk for starvation. An additional 3 million people are under close watch. The Ethiopian government estimates that it will take 1.46 million metric tons of food to address the crisis.

Using a centuries-old recipe, the Church has produced a food product called Atmit—an Ethiopian term for “nourishing porridge.” Atmit is an oat flour–based powdered milk product used to feed the most severely malnourished children and elderly adults whose bodies can no longer digest whole grains.

When Humanitarian Services staff in Salt Lake City received the recipe, they decided they could quickly produce the product locally at the Welfare Department’s food production facilities. Nutritionists from Brigham Young University were brought in to create the right blend of nutritional supplement for the recipe. Approximately 160 tons (145 tonnes) of Atmit were produced and shipped to Ethiopia. The Church was the first organization to provide Atmit in the current crisis.

“It is because of our Welfare Services program and the resources we have at Welfare Square that we were able to make this and be ready within a week’s time,” says Garry Flake, director of humanitarian emergency response for the Church. Brother Flake was in Ethiopia in March to coordinate the delivery of the Church’s food donations with Catholic Relief Services and Project Mercy.

The Church also donated 3,000 tons (2,722 tonnes) of a corn/soybean product called Unimix, which was produced and purchased in Ethiopia. The protein-based food is used to supplement whole-grain corn or wheat in the diets of those particularly vulnerable to starvation, such as pregnant and lactating mothers and small children.

This assistance resonates back to the roots of the Church’s current emergency response program. Almost 20 years ago the Church made its first large-scale humanitarian donation, sending aid to Ethiopia and other African nations suffering from widespread drought and famine. In early 1985, members of the Church fasted for famine victims in Africa and contributed generous fast offerings to be used for their relief. More than U.S. $6 million donated through the fasts was distributed to relief agencies working in Ethiopia and other African nations. The event marked the beginning of what has grown into an established program of emergency response by the Church.

“The welfare program, growing out of principles of giving and receiving, has always emphasized preparedness and service,” says Dale Bills, a spokesperson for the Church who accompanied Brother Flake to Ethiopia for the recent food distribution. “And it is on the strength of the Welfare Services infrastructure that we have been able not only to meet the needs of our own, but also to reach out through humanitarian efforts to bless the lives of others.”

Through the most recent donation to Ethiopia, an estimated 220,000 people will benefit for five months from the Unimix supplement, and tens of thousands of children and elderly will benefit from Atmit.

“Your efforts are going to save many, many lives,” says Marta Gabre-Tsadick, Project Mercy’s Africa representative. “I wish I could tell you how many lives this is going to save.”

“This is being done through the contributions and generosity of the members of the Church,” Brother Flake emphasizes. “There is a spirit that permeates what we do when it comes from the sacrifices and generosity and love of the members of the Church and concern for people in need wherever they are.”

Relief workers walk through a drought-stricken field in Ethiopia to distribute food to villagers at risk for starvation. The drought and famine are the country’s most severe in 20 years. (Photograph by Dale Bills, Church Public Affairs.)

Garry Flake holds a child suffering in Ethiopia’s current hunger crisis. Brother Flake was in Ethiopia in March to coordinate the Church’s donation of more than 3,000 tons (2,722 tonnes) of food. (Photograph by Dale Bills, Church Public Affairs.)