“World Organizations Grateful for Church’s Humanitarian Efforts,” Ensign, Oct. 2006, 77–78
Whether for immediate emergency response, such as the medical supplies provided to victims of the May 2006 earthquake in Indonesia, or for ongoing major initiatives, such as the distribution of 40,000 wheelchairs each year in 70 countries, Church Welfare and Humanitarian Services responds to human need more now than ever before.
“The Savior asks us to ‘succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees’ (D&C 81:5),” Bishop H. David Burton, Presiding Bishop of the Church, said in April 2006 general conference. “I have witnessed firsthand the commitment of Latter-day Saints and others not of our faith who have tender hearts and helping hands, who ‘bear … one another’s burdens’ (Galatians 6:2). I have been deeply sorrowed as I have seen massive devastation and visited victims who are without hope” (“Tender Hearts and Helping Hands,” Ensign and Liahona, May 2006, 8).
The Church often teams with service organizations across the world in emergency and humanitarian efforts.
“Over the years, the Church has developed wonderful associations with government and nongovernment organizations that share many of the same values and goals,” said Dennis Lifferth, managing director of Welfare Services. “The humanitarian efforts of the Church truly bless many families,” he told Church magazines. “Of course, the goal of the Church is more than just helping with immediate needs. The goal is to help families help themselves and, in the process, become self-reliant. For this reason, the humanitarian efforts of the Church focus on the traditional, basic elements of self-reliance including food production, clean water and sanitation, health, and education.”
In 2006 the Church distributed wheelchairs in Vietnam, funded relief for Romanian flood victims, provided long-term aid to the Asian tsunami-hit areas, provided medical supplies to 200 Brazilian hospitals, and joined with Islamic Relief Worldwide in helping victims of the 6.3-magnitude earthquake that struck Indonesia in May, killing thousands and leaving tens of thousands injured and homeless.
“It’s a tremendous relationship,” said Mokhtar Shawky, a member of the board of directors of Islamic Relief Worldwide, at a press conference where eight semitrucks of supplies were to be loaded on a 747 cargo plane and shipped to Indonesia. “We really appreciate what the Church is doing. We feel like we complement each other. … The end result is helping more people in more parts of the world.”
The Indonesian quake was a recent example of emergencies in which these two humanitarian relief agencies combined efforts. Another was the 7.6-magnitude South Asia earthquake that struck in 2005, killing more than 50,000, injuring thousands, and leaving millions homeless.
“I do believe that the LDS Church has helped a great deal in easing the pain and suffering of a lot of victims of natural disasters and manmade disasters,” Islamic Relief executive director Ahmad El-Bendary told the Church magazines in 2005. “It has been a great help and support and strength for humanitarian causes that we have worked with the Muslim community on.”
The Church also provided major disaster assistance during the 2005 hurricane season, especially following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in Louisiana and other southern states. Verdie Culpepper, donations coordinator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said the Church donated numerous supplies for the cleanup efforts that furnished invaluable aid for the state of Louisiana.
Similarly, Marsha Kelly, executive director for the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service, praised the Church’s quick response to requests following the hurricanes.
“Every interaction that I’ve had [with the Church] has been immediate. … What more could someone want than to have somebody say, ‘This is what I am going to do,’ and it happened,” she said. “And they do it with such love.”
Alex Amparo, director of emergency management for the Governor’s Committee on Volunteerism in Florida, told the Church magazines that the emergency relief given by the Church and its hundreds of volunteers was tremendous during the eight hurricanes that hit Florida in an 18-month period from 2004 to 2005.
“The LDS Church’s volunteer program is one of the most structured and effective operations that I’ve ever seen, and I’ve worked with a host of agencies before,” he said.
In 2005 alone the Church contributed 157,000 days of labor for disaster relief, with a total of 581,821 days of labor donated to Church welfare facilities.
In the aftermath of Hurricanes Stan and Wilma, Church members overcame mudslides, washed-out bridges, and blocked roads to deliver supplies to Guatemala, El Salvador, and southern Mexico. The Saints in Mexico organized quickly and provided thousands of volunteer hours, and Church buildings became command centers to provide relief.
“In one case, the stake center became a refuge and emergency meal center, open 24 hours a day, for anyone in need,” Elder Craig C. Christensen of the Seventy, Mexico South Area President, said. “A team of Relief Society sisters worked for six days straight providing food and relief for thousands of victims and volunteers.”
Government officials also commended the Saints’ efforts.
“[The Church’s] invaluable aid has contributed in a remarkable way to help us face the emergency and recover, in a short period of time, to our normal activities,” said Fidel Herrera, governor of the state of Veracruz.
In addition to initial emergency response, the Church helps communities rebuild and provides ongoing humanitarian efforts throughout the world.
In February 2005 the American Red Cross presented the Church with the American Red Cross Circle of Humanitarians Award after the Church contributed $3 million to the Africa measles vaccination campaign in 2004 and 2005.
Since 1985 the Church has contributed a substantial amount of material assistance to 163 countries around the world. The Church has distributed more than 51,000 tons (46,000 tonnes) of food, 7,600 tons (6,900 tonnes) of medical equipment, 68,000 tons (61,000 tonnes) of surplus clothing, and 5,700 tons (5,100 tonnes) of educational supplies.
Yet all of this help is only one aspect of the Church’s welfare program. Another, more long-term effort is to help families become self-reliant and self-sustaining.
“It is our hope that by helping families become self-reliant, they will gain greater confidence not only in their own abilities but also in their fellowmen and especially in the sustaining strength of a loving Father in Heaven,” Brother Lifferth said.
More information about the Church’s welfare program can be found on www.providentliving.org.