Thirteen years after President Gordon B. Hinckley announced the beginning of the Perpetual Education Fund, the program is thriving in this western African nation.
Hundreds of Ghanaians have benefitted from the Church’s PEF loan program, which helps people lift themselves from the throes of poverty and discouragement through hard work, self-reliance and education.
Ghana’s stable democracy, growing economy and a culture that puts an emphasis on education has made it fertile ground for the PEF success, said Mike Murray, vice chairman of the Perpetual Education Fund.
“In Ghana, you have a winning, triple combination of dynamics. The Church is growing rapidly and is attracting many young adults of strong faith and commitment who have a thirst for education. Ghana, as a country, is putting an emphasis on schools and education. And you have a relatively safe country with a strong rule of law and a steady democracy,” Brother Murray explained.
“In terms of a report card of a country who has everything going for it, Ghana might get straight A’s. We’re extremely pleased with the adoption and usage of the PEF loan program in Ghana. We’re also pleased with how the members who are using this program are repaying the loans. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
The Church’s Perpetual Education Fund is designed to help needy, determined and worthy members of the Church around the world receive funds to pay for education and training, which prepare them for specific jobs or small-business opportunities in the communities in which they live.
It is modeled after the Perpetual Emigration Fund set up for the Church’s early pioneers, and as loans are repaid, the money is recycled and made available to other members of the Church seeking to improve their livelihood. And, like the Perpetual Emigration Fund, the source of the funds comes from the donations of other members who desire to help those less fortunate than themselves.
Participants in the program are strengthened personally, both spiritually and temporally, and are also enabled to help their families and communities.
For Elder Robert C. Gay of the Seventy, chairman of the Perpetual Education Fund, Ghana has a special place in his heart. Elder Gay served as president of the Accra Ghana Mission from 2004 to 2007.
“The people of Ghana are some of the kindest and nicest people you’ll find on the face of the Earth,” Elder Gay said. “While my family had worked in other parts of Africa, we had never been to Ghana before we were called to go there as a mission president. In Ghana, we worked with and served people from all different regions and dialects on a daily basis. They blessed our lives in many ways, teaching us how to give when you have little, opening their homes and their hearts to us. It just was a wonderful, wonderful experience. Many Ghanaians have become family to us. The members there made our time there a joy. It became a great place of love and friendship.”
The PEF program hadn’t been established in Ghana when Elder Gay arrived in 2004.
“The PEF came to Ghana about midway through our mission. When it was announced, the principles underlying it were thoroughly taught, and members, especially returned missionaries, were carefully interviewed and prepared,” said Elder Gay. “As PEF arrived, participants were fully taught and prepared to receive loans and to have a high level of integrity and responsibility in fulfilling their obligations.
“Overall, I feel it’s a combination of a couple of factors as to why PEF has succeeded in Ghana. First, it fulfills a real need. Second, those that are given the opportunity to receive a loan respect that it’s a real obligation on their part. It’s not a handout or an entitlement, but an obligation for them to use it wisely and give service after they’ve repaid it and use the blessings it brings to them to bless other people in their lives. These are special people, and PEF is a revealed blessing from our Father in Heaven.”
Prior to becoming a General Authority, Elder Gay, along with Mike Murray and others, co-founded one of the world’s leading micro-credit institutions to help lift impoverished people around the world. He also served as a managing director and senior partner at Bain Capital, where he worked with former presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Elder Gay earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University with a special emphasis on helping alleviate poverty.
“Probably the greatest option for coming out of poverty — the greatest assistance that can be given — isn’t just handing money to somebody, it’s giving those in need an education,” Elder Gay said. “The PEF is a true godsend in that regard. While we’re expanding it right now in Ghana to include a more concentrated effort on helping people get jobs and to expand and build small businesses, for the youth, education is the key.”
In order to further that mission, the Church has been implementing a pilot “Self-Reliance Services” initiative in the Africa West Area, the Central American Area and the Caribbean Area.
In the Africa West Area, John Koranteng is the area self-reliance manager. Under the direction and keys of the Africa West Area Presidency, Koranteng directs an effort that has combined the PEF loan program, job training programs and new self-employment training to help members become spiritually and temporally self-reliant.
“In order to be productive, contributing members of society over time, and to be able to help build the church in leadership positions, we need people to be self-reliant,” said Elder Gay. “If we think about the attributes of our Heavenly Father — we think about him being loving, all-powerful and all-knowing — but one of the things we never think about is that he is also self-reliant. When we think about becoming like our Father in Heaven, there is a reason that self-reliance is fundamental. It is the nature of being able to withstand the vicissitudes of life and the vicissitudes of spiritual challenges that arise.
“At the PEF, when we started truly praying, pondering and thinking about how we could best serve people, it wasn’t to get them a job or give them a loan. It was to help them provide the necessities of life, both temporally and spiritually. That was the whole reason for the pilot in the Africa West Area, to look at a broader way of providing those necessities of life.”