While serving in the Colombia Cali Mission, Danny Solis Martell frequently pondered his future.
He would tell members and investigators of his plans to get an education and a good job. Then, to his companions, he would express his fears and hopelessness. He knew he might never have the money or opportunity for education. He wondered how he would support a family.
"My good companions would try to encourage me by saying that the Lord would help me somehow if I were just patient," he said. "Still, it seemed hopeless."
Today Brother Martell is working to become a computer systems/network technician.
The Church's Perpetual Education Fund, he said, was the answer to his companions' faith and the prayers of many others. "Now I am achieving that dream. I am attending one of the best schools in my city. My desires and motivation are higher than ever. I can see how I will be able to help my family, the Church, and others, and I will return in many ways the assistance given me."
Since President Gordon B. Hinckley announced the program one year ago, loans have been approved for more than 2,400 young men and women in Mexico, Peru, Chile, Brazil and the Philippines. In coming months the Church will expand the loan program to Bolivia and then to other underprivileged nations of the world.
Elder John K. Carmack, managing director of the Church's Perpetual Education Fund Department and an emeritus General Authority, expects that almost 6,000 loans will be made by the end of the year, and perhaps double that by the end of 2003.
The fund was created to help returned missionaries and other needy members in less-developed countries obtain an education needed for job skills, without which they cannot rise out of poverty, become self-reliant, provide for their families and serve the Church.
"We want to pull our people up by the boot straps to give them skills and hope and help them qualify for jobs," said Elder Carmack. "It is a problem when young adult returned missionaries go home to less-advantaged countries, finding themselves back in poverty with no hope. Some of them get discouraged and lost lost to the Church, lost to a life of employment opportunity and growth. . . . When they have to fight 24 hours a day to put food on the table they have no time for anything else."
The PEF program, emphasized Elder Carmack, is "much more than just a loan."
"Working through caring priesthood leaders and institute directors, we help these faithful young people learn to dream, to have a broader vision of their potential. We help them build a strong career plan by capitalizing on their skills and experiences, and by selecting a good school to help them grow. We help them organize their finances, establish a budget, and seek local scholarships and grants. We sustain them as they achieve their dreams."
Elder Carmack further noted that "this inspired PEF program is so helpful that many youth find they do not need a loan, but can tap into other community or government programs to fund their education. Sometimes they just need hope!"
Loan applicants must be 18-30 years of age, active in the institute program, living and working in the area they will attend school, and willing to take on the terms of the loan repayment. Those terms include a small amount of interest and payments that begin in small increments soon after participants start school.
PEF loans, on the average of about $1,000 a year, are used only for the cost of tuition, books and fees and are paid directly to the school.
Because of its success, Elder Carmack believes, the program will be an integral part of the Church indefinitely limited only by the amount of the loan fund. No money from the fund is used for administration; 100 percent of donations are used for loans. And although the amount of the fund is confidential, Elder Carmack said, it is substantial. "So far," he said, "we have been able to keep up with the need."
Considering that just a year ago there was no program just a vision of what it should be and no department to run it, the success of the Perpetual Education Fund has been remarkable, said Elder Carmack.
In just 12 months, a board was established to govern the fund, and with President Hinckley as chairman, program literature and application forms drafted, Church employment resource managers and institute directors trained, and the infrastructure for a worldwide loan program established under the direction of priesthood leaders. Software has also been developed to train and track recipients.
Volunteers, including Elder Carmack and Elder Richard E. Cook, who was released from the Second Quorum of the Seventy last year, are working full time to get the program running. Church departments, including audit, finance, legal, Church Educational System, welfare, and others, have all been involved. And local leaders, volunteers and institute directors are doing their part. Because of the program the workload has increased at institutes, but so has institute enrollment.
Quoting President Hinckley, Elder Carmack said members need only look ahead one generation to see the far-reaching fruits of this effort.
At a recent board meeting, President Hinckley said: "We will develop a body of successful saints, men of stature, wonderful leaders of substance, ability and faith. This will change the face of the Church. . . . So keep working. Work your heads off!"
The rewards of the work, said Elder Carmack, can be seen in the lives of the members it is helping.
- Ruth Torres Vargas is 25, serving as a Stake primary president and studying to become a computer programmer and technician. "This great blessing allows us to make a 180-degree turn in our lives," she said.
- Angel Figon, a stake high councilor who served in the Tuxtla Guierrez Mexico Mission, said he returned from his mission determined to help his parents and siblings, prepare for his own family and continue to serve the Church. He was admitted to a good university, but economic and personal challenges forced him to quit. Months later he received a partial scholarship to another school. Economic pressures again came down upon him, but this time he turned to the Perpetual Education Fund. He will finish his technical education as an industrial engineer in nine months.
- Esther Gianinna Landa Lozano returned from the Peru Lima East Mission, finding it impossible to obtain employment without a certificate or degree. Now, she is studying to become a physical/rehabilitation therapist.
- Alberto de los Santos Torres has served as a high councilor and bishop and has five children. He is working to become certified in bilingual business. "My life has changed through participating in the PEF program," he said. "I have discovered new horizons, new challenges. I have learned that where there is a will, there is a way. I feel committed to myself and my family. I also feel the great responsibility to pay back the loan, with interest. This money was earned by someone else with honor and integrity and donated with love. I must do my part."
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Members wanting to contribute should mark "Perpetual Education Fund" on the standard Tithing and Other Offerings slip or go to www.lds.org/ldsfoundation. Questions relating to this program may be directed to the Perpetual Education Fund office at (801) 240-0337, or by contacting your local bishop or stake president.