The Book of Mormon Musical mocked the idea that religion could have anything to offer the poor in Africa. However, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are sometimes called Mormons, has sponsored many official humanitarian projects in Africa. The models they use are also being followed by Mormons who start independent non-profits in Africa. Following are five non-profit charities run by Mormons independent of their church, but motivated by the Christ-like behavior expected of Mormons and the models of sustainability and self-sufficiency. These are but a few of the charitable organizations run by every day Mormons to benefit the needy in Africa.
The International Sustainability Fund
When Jason Bammel wanted to start a non-profit, he approached a Mormon named Stuart Mushala. Mushala, a native of Zambia who is now a United States citizen, suggested they select a project in Zambia, and they decided to focus on orphans. Their goal was to create sustainable projects that would not be dependent on donors over the long run. This is a standard procedure for humanitarian projects run by the “Mormon Church” and is a popular model when individual Mormons operate their own programs. It allows the organization to continually move to new projects while the others continue to operate successfully under the local leaders. It promotes self-sufficiency and increases the number of people who can be served.
They formed the International Sustainability Fund. Two of the board members in the United States are Mormon and all four Zambian board members are Mormon.
The organization recently provided an oven stove, tables and benches for meals, and clothing for children at the Kaza orphanage, which cares for twenty-six children. They also arranged for German architects and engineers to examine the orphanage and arrange for safety improvements to the buildings. The Chilenje Transient Home in Lusaka received donations collected in Kentucky, had two broken beds replaced, and a new water boiler which replaced their leaking fifty-year-old equipment. ISF has visited three orphanages, is preparing a documentary to spread awareness of the needs, and is working on sustainability plans for them.
Bridges to America
Bridges to America began when Adam Miles, of Cache County, Utah, met a man named Joachim Fayani. Fayani had fled Africa due to political danger. He’d then worked to get visas and clearances for his wife and children to join him, but when the documents arrived, he had no money to send for his family. Miles learned that there were many Africa families in this situation. They could legally bring their families into the country to find safety if they only had the funds to get them here.
The families that receive help from Bridges to America must commit to get an education, become financially independent, learn English, and be good American citizens.
Miles’ daughter, then twelve, ran a soccer save-a-thon to raise money to bring soccer balls to children in an African village after her father promised one to a little boy there. His program now includes opportunities to young women like Kylie to plan and carry out aid missions, which helps teach them leadership skills and builds a tradition of service. They raise money to purchase food, educational supplies, toys, and other goods for people in these African villages.
The small organization has reunited three families, participated in a rescue mission to save children taken from their families to work long hours as fishers, and continues to hold annual save-a-thons. They are now planning to have 10-15 young women like Miles’ daughter go with them to Africa to deliver the purchased supplies and to provide service.
Serve a Village
Serve a Village formally organized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2010, but that date only formalized the work the Hunt family of South Africa had been doing for half a century. Kathryn Hunt and her family owned a large cattle ranch in South Africa. There was an impoverished village nearby, and Kathryn made it her personal mission to do everything she could for the people there. She built schools and brought in teachers. Each Christmas the family focused on preparing gifts and treats for the villagers. She involved her church—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints— and other community members, including the Boy Scouts, in her work. Kathryn Hunt’s family and friends formed Serve a Village in her memory. Serve a Village is a 100% volunteer organization.
Today, Serve a Village seeks to improve the health, education, welfare and environment of communities throughout the world. They do this in two ways. First, they organize international humanitarian service expeditions to South Africa and Kenya. These 10 day expeditions provide a way for participants to combine meaningful service with engaging cultural and educational experiences. You can watch a video of their 2011 Humanitarian Service Expedition to Stanford, South Africa here:
Second, they manage projects both internationally and in their own local community. For example, in Fairfax County, Virginia, they manage the Northern Virginia Diaper Bank. This diaper bank provides a reliable source of diapers and wipes to families in need. In Kenya, they have created a community library, the Kigima Resource Centre, organized and trained local people to run it, and continue to fundraise for it. This library supports 13 schools and is a place where the local children love to come and learn. They also support a clinic in Kenya by providing treatment for jiggers, assembling portable first aid kits and providing medical equipment and supplies. In South Africa they have taken on an ambitious project to build a new school building for impoverished children who currently attend school in a building that is dangerous and falling apart.
Care for Life
Care for Life, started by Mormons Cindy and Blair Packard, is an organization that works to keep children from becoming orphans. Cindy was a part-time midwife raising a family with her husband, a physical therapist, when they learned about the intense suffering in Mozambique.
Care for Life describes itself in this way:
Care for Life is a global non-profit organization with a holistic approach to ending poverty in a sustainable way by preserving the family while encouraging and enabling the practice of self-reliance. Care for Life is not a handout or a give-away organization, but one that believes in working with people to help them take charge of their own destiny, realize their full potential, and create a culture of individual effort and responsibility.
The organization is having a profound impact on the people it serves. In the villages where they work, Deseret News reported in 2011 that deaths, once 44 per year, are now just ten per year. 85 percent of the people had decent housing, where once only 50 percent did. Twice as many people had jobs and more children attended school. Even adult literacy increased, with 77 then percent literate. (See Elizabeth Stuart, Seeds of Hope: How one American woman is helping Africa help itself, Deseret News, October 23, 2011)
What makes this organization unique is that like many non-profits run by Mormons, the program encourages self-sufficiency. They help villages set up leadership councils and train them to continue running their own programs and to create new ones. Eventually, when Care for Life leaves, the villages continue the work and improvements continue to be made.
Each village and participant is required to earn what it receives, avoiding the dependence on handouts. The community makes goals in the areas of sanitation, education and family life. Each person who wants to benefit also has to set goals in these areas. They are monitored, and when goals are met, they are given supplies they need to improve their lives. For instance, one family signed up for a class in income generation. The wife took literacy classes and the children went to school consistently. The family planted a garden and made changes to their sanitation practices. When the father built a simple latrine, the organization donated cement to improve it. He also received cement to improve his home.
The organization works to make lasting changes, rather than teaching villagers to passively wait for gifts from foreigners. Each person who participates learns skills that will always make their lives better and allow them to pass along the skills to their children.
Choice Humanitarian is one of the larger charities started by private Mormons. It has a five-star rating from Charity Navigator, which monitors the efficiency and trustworthiness of non-profits.
James Mayfield, one of the co-founders of the non-profit, visited Indonesia to examine humanitarian projects carried out by major non-profits. He found that most of the projects no longer functioned. One villager said they had no clean water because they were waiting for the organization to return to fix the pumps for them. He began to wonder if villages would be more motivated to maintain these projects if they had been involved in them from the start. Studies backed his idea and noted that this was particularly true when women were included in the projects. Mayfield realized that organizations need to work through local people rather than simply giving them something for free that they may not want or understand.
The second co-founder is Tim Evans, who spent two years as a missionary in Peru. Later, he learned of a girl who died after drinking bad water in the area he had served. He formed a non-profit, and Mayfield later agreed to sit on the board. In 1988, they formed Choice Humanitarian, initially to raise money and to organize expeditions to support Evans’ non-profit. In 1992, the organizations merged. The NGO has evolved over the years as field research helped them to understand the best way to bring positive change to the countries they serve.
Choice works in five countries: Kenya, Nepal, Bolivia, Guatemala and Mexico. They use a bottom-up approach that involves local residents in villages that demonstrate a high level of motivation to change and improve. Although centered in Utah, the organization has local in-country staffs that report to the international organization and accept visits from that board twice a year.
The model used puts villagers in control of their own future. They decide what they need and then receive help in learning how to accomplish it.
In Africa, Choice Humanitarian focuses on Kwale and Kinango districts in Kenya. 40 percent of Kwale’s people live in absolute poverty and 32 percent suffer from food insecurity. Kinango has one of the highest rates of infant death in the country.
Many of the villages they serve ask that schools be built first. They recognize that their people must be educated in order to have better lives. The school buildings also become community centers where villagers decide what steps to take to make life better.
They have also established micro credit programs for women who want to start businesses, operated water and sanitation projects, provided basic health-care training for residents, and helped them organize the Marikani Dairy Cooperative. When the dairy is fully functioning and the farmers are trained in business skills, local farmers will buy out the shares currently held by the government or other charities and will become completely independent.
Watch a video about the dairy:
It’s hard to go to school when there is no electricity, but that was the reality for many children in Ghana. Empower Playgrounds was formed to provide a unique and fun solution to the problem by enabling the children to generate their own electricity as they play.
The charity was started by Ben Markham after he retired as Vice President of Engineering at ExxonMobil in 2004. From 2004 to 2006, he and his wife Julie volunteered to be service missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Service missionaries don’t work to bring about conversions. Instead, they may serve in other ways, including leading humanitarian work in the place they serve. Ben and Julie were sent to West Africa and served there for eighteen months.
While there, Ben, concerned about the impact not having electricity had on the children’s education and home lives, came up with the idea that would eventually become Empower Playgrounds. At home after his mission, he asked Brigham Young University’s engineering students for help. These students must do a senior year “capstone project” creating a real-world project that has a humanitarian focus. In 2007, they came up with the idea of a merry-go-round, the unpowered kind that used to be found on American playgrounds. Merry-go-rounds are round and flat. Children push the round segment in circles and then ride on it until it slows down or until other children push it. Markham wanted the BYU students to develop a way for the children to generate their own electricity in a way that would be playful and fun.
The students came up with the idea of creating the merry-go-round with a gearbox to multiply the rotation speed. This spins the generator, and the generator converts the energy into electricity. The converted electricity is stored in a car battery. The car battery then recharges LED lanterns the children use to light their school room. When they go home, they take the lights home with them to light their houses. This allows them to do chores and homework at night. There are future plans to use the excess energy to charge cell phones and computers. Previous attempts to bring electricity to the villages have failed due to cost. Other playground items have been created. Although the prototype was built and installed by the BYU students, a Ghanaian company agreed to create additional playground items. BYU business students traveled to Ghana to select locations for future playgrounds.
Children in Ghana have few toys, so the invention also brings an element of play for young children who spend their days in school and their afternoons working to support their families. A science curriculum has been developed by the non-profit to help children learn the science behind their playground, using hands-on learning techniques, a method not often used in Ghana.
An additional benefit is that the lanterns are safer than the kerosene previously used in homes. Kerosene, burnt in the home, yields the same dangers as smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, damages vision, and leads to many fires, because the roofs are thatched.
Most religions teach a moral responsibility to others that leads religious people to want to ease the world’s suffering. Mormons are taught to follow the example of Jesus Christ, who devoted his mission to serving those in need. Mormons, for that reason, reach out to the needy, and that takes many of them to Africa. For Mormons, it is a way to give back to God, who gives them so much.
Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:40.)
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.