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LDS Humanitarian Services
LDS Humanitarian Services is a branch of the Welfare Services department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). The organization's stated mission is to relieve suffering, to foster self-reliance for people of all nationalities and religions, and to provide opportunities for service.
The LDS Church considers humanitarian work to be an essential part of its mission to bless all humanity in emulation of Jesus Christ "who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed" (Acts 10:38). Throughout its history, the LDS Church has always provided for those in need and is perhaps best known for its efforts to take care of its own. In 1842, Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, organized the Women's Relief Society, with a primary focus to provide "relief" to suffering members and ultimately to all people. During the Great Depression the LDS Church organized a welfare program, now administered the church's Welfare Services department, to help provide for the needs of its members.
As the program has grown, the church's welfare efforts have expanded to help people around the world regardless of religion, race, or nationality. LDS Humanitarian Services was created to coordinate these efforts in partnership with government and other nonprofit agencies around the world. The church's humanitarian work primarily helps those in need who are not members of the church. There are many people in virtually any community in the world who struggle to have basic needs met. The church seeks to help as many as possible. Key humanitarian initiatives include clean water, vision treatment, wheelchair provision, neonatal resuscitation, and disaster relief. Other initiatives include immunizations, family enrichment programs, and family food production. In 2008, LDS Humanitarian Services provided aid to 3.3 million people in 122 countries, and since 1985 help has been given to 23 million people in 189 nations. All of these initiatives, as well as support and advice on personal and community preparation for disasters can be found on the LDS Church's Provident Living website.
Wheelchair Distribution is another church program crucial to helping those in need. Studies estimate that only one percent of the disabled in the world have wheelchairs. For the rest, being without a wheelchair means adults can not provide for themselves or their families, and for children it often means not being able to attend school. By providing wheelchairs to those in need, the church hopes to help people become more self-reliant which is an important tenant of LDS beliefs.
The Neonatal Resuscitation program sends doctors and volunteers to areas where infant mortality rate is high. They are able to teach people in the area how to resuscitate newborns as well as provide simple medical equipment. This service is greatly needed as it is estimated that nearly 1 million newborns die each year due to birth difficulties. Up to 10% of newborns have breathing difficulties.
In addition to these efforts, the LDS Church also has over 300 job development and placement centers around the world. In 2001, the church began the Perpetual Education Fund which provides money to cover tuition and other school expenses to people in developing nations. As of 2007, tens of thousands of individuals had been given assistance. So far this program has operated primarily in South America and Oceania. The LDS Church has also begun producing a nutrition-rich porridge named Atmit to help during acute famines. The church welfare program owns farms, ranches, canneries, and other food producing facilities to provide temporary food relief for families and individuals. LDS Humanitarian Services frequently works with other charities and NGOs such as the Red Cross, Catholic charities and even various Islamic charities for which the LDS Church has produced halaal food.
All of these initiatives require manpower and while there are some full-time employees in administrative and clerical functions, there are also thousands of volunteer humanitarian missionaries. In emergency situations, local members and full-time missionaries who would normally devote their time to proselyting will participate in relief efforts, but in many of these more permanent initiatives the LDS Church uses senior-aged missionary couples.
These couples are retired church members who devote six months to two years of their time to go anywhere in the world, typically at their own expense, to participate in these projects. Because of this volunteer force, the church is able to use 100 percent of money and goods donated in helping those in need. These missionaries often serve in activities related to their former profession. Doctors and nurses will serve medical missions either in the Neonatal Resuscitation programs or special missions to countries in need of dentists, eye doctors, surgeons and so forth. People with agricultural or engineering backgrounds will serve on the clean water initiative or else help farmers in developing countries.
Other members who are still working and raising families frequently donate time, money, and in-kind donations to help in these ventures. Members can volunteer at local canneries and farms to help produce food for the needy. They can volunteer to create the medical kits needed for doctors and new mothers in developing nations and many help make blankets for needy families. Many of these local initiatives are organized by the Relief Society. This volunteer force allows the LDS Church to reduce operating expenses and serve more people with their resources.
The church has been involved in several humanitarian aid projects in Africa. On January 27, 1985, members across the world joined together in a fast for "the victims of famine and other causes resulting in hunger and privation among people of Africa." They also donated the money that would have been used for food during the fast to help those victims, regardless of church membership. Together with other organizations such as UNICEF and the American Red Cross, the church worked towards eradicating measles. Since 1999, there has been a 60 percent drop in deaths from measles in Africa. Due to the church's efforts, the American Red Cross gave the First Presidency the organization's highest financial support honor, the American Red Cross Circle of Humanitarians award. The church has also been involved in humanitarian aid in Africa by sending food boxes, digging wells to provide clean water, distributing wheelchairs, providing Neonatal Resuscitation Training, and setting up employment resources service centers.