Humanitarian Services Lifting Lives Worldwide
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“Humanitarian Services Lifting Lives Worldwide,” Ensign, Apr. 2004, 75–76

Humanitarian Services Lifting Lives Worldwide

Saints in Peru can see, villagers in Ethiopia can drink water without fear of disease, children restricted by mobility problems in Kosovo have been set free by their first wheelchair, and newborns around the world will get a better chance at taking their first breath. People all over the world are being blessed through Church Humanitarian Services.

The Church’s emergency relief efforts in response to crises around the globe are often publicized. But even when nature is calm and the earth is still, the effects of the Church’s humanitarian aid can be felt worldwide.

Current humanitarian efforts are focused on four major initiatives: providing vision care, providing neonatal resuscitation training for doctors, providing clean water, and providing wheelchairs.

All of the initiatives are aimed at helping people help themselves. “I love my job,” said Gary Winters, a manager for major initiative projects. “These projects help people with self-reliance. It’s helping them live the doctrine being preached by the Brethren.”

Let Him See Who Has Eyes to See

The gospel has always helped to open the eyes of the spiritually blind. Through its vision care projects, Humanitarian Services is helping thousands of Saints and members of other faiths overcome physical vision challenges. With projects already in more than a dozen countries around the world, the Church has partnered with foundations and doctors to provide free cataract surgeries and eyeglasses while training local ophthalmologists.

In Nigeria, for example, Humanitarian Services set up two-day clinics in six cities during the latter part of 2003 and early 2004. In each location, up to 100 cataract surgeries were performed while local doctors watched, and 1,000 pairs of eyeglasses were distributed to those who needed them.

Similar clinics have been held in Peru, Uganda, and Kenya. Requests from Area Presidencies for such clinics are continually being evaluated by Humanitarian Services.

The Water of Life

Human dependency on water became the basis for a number of the Savior’s teachings. Life cannot exist without water. Unclean water leads to millions of deaths every year due to a variety of diseases. According to the World Health Organization, about two million people die every year from diarrheal diseases alone (about 88 percent of which are caused by unsafe water supplies), and most of the victims are children under 5.

Providing clean water for household use is currently one of the Church’s major focuses. Humanitarian Services is rehabilitating wells and piping spring water to villages and communities worldwide. Projects in Ethiopia, Ghana, Ecuador, Peru, Uganda, Kenya, and Armenia have provided countless families with clean water. But the benefits go beyond avoiding disease. In many locations, women and children were walking several miles each day to fetch water, carrying as many as 8 gallons (30 l) of water, which weigh about 66 pounds (30 kg).

“It’s a huge burden,” says Brother Winters. “And even after all that effort, the water wasn’t always clean. Bringing the water closer to the people frees up the mother to help the family more, and frees the children up to be in school more frequently.”

In January, the Church turned over 70 borehole water pumps it had rehabilitated, which are now serving the residents of more than 25 communities in Ghana. Piping water takes more time. The Church hires engineers to plan the project, members of the community do the labor, and humanitarian missionaries oversee it all. More clean-water projects are being planned. Brother Winters expects the effort will expand into southeast Asia this year.

Wings to Those Who Can’t Walk

Being unable to walk can negatively affect an entire family. Without a wheelchair, fathers may not be able to work, mothers may struggle to care for their children, and children may not be able to attend school without someone with them constantly to carry them where they need to go.

Partnering with the Wheelchair Foundation, the Church has already provided more than 30,000 wheelchairs to people in need. Those wheelchairs have been spread all over the world from Mexico and Central America to Africa to the South Pacific, Asia, eastern Europe, and even war-torn Iraq.

“Often the first thing we hear from children who are finally receiving a wheelchair is, ‘Now I can go to school,’” said Brother Winters, who oversees the wheelchair initiative for Humanitarian Services.

In January, the Church and the Wheelchair Foundation donated 500 wheelchairs to the people of Kosovo in a ceremony hosted by Kosovo Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi. The Church hopes to be able to distribute wheelchairs in Brazil, Russia, and southeast Asia this year, as well as continuing to support projects in Mexico, Central America, and Africa.

A Second Chance at a First Breath

The infant mortality rate in many nations is discouragingly high. A number of infant deaths occur simply because those present at the birth don’t know how to help a newborn to breathe.

Working with the ministers of health in various countries, the Church is sending neonatologists and neonatal nurses to train physicians and nurses in neonatal resuscitation. At each session, Humanitarian Services trains up to 100 newborn-care providers with the expectation that each of them will later train an additional 10 people using equipment donated by the Church.

According to Wade Sperry, a manager of major initiative projects, Humanitarian Services has made a major push in the last year to provide neonatal resuscitation training to doctors around the world. In 2003, training was conducted in 12 countries—Bolivia, Ecuador, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Madagascar, Moldova, Peru, Samoa, Tonga, and Uganda. Training will be completed in Fiji, Uganda, Cape Verde, and various parts of Brazil by early April. Other locations are being evaluated for future training sessions.

An Ethiopian woman straps a five-gallon jug of water to her back to carry home for her family’s needs. The Church later rehabilitated a well closer to her home. (Photograph by Gary Winters.)

Students from Mexico’s Benemérito (LDS) school set up wheelchairs being donated by the Church. (Photograph by Don Searle.)