Dream of education can be reality

Pedro Jose Ramirez Jimenez of Santiago, Dominican Republic, was "filled with sadness" when he learned he would not be able to financially continue his studies in medicine. He had joined the Church in his first year of medical school, and turned down a scholarship so he could serve a full-time mission.

But this sadness turned to joy as he learned his application for a Church Educational System scholarship loan had been accepted. He became a doctor of medicine Nov. 10, 1990, and is currently in charge of emergencies in a private clinic in Santiago. He plans to further continue his studies and specialize in ophthalmology.A high councilor in the Santiago stake, Brother Jimenez is one of thousands in developing countries who have achieved educational dreams as a result of the scholarship fund program of the Church Educational System. The Church provides these loans to assist LDS members financially in developing areas to take advantage of educational opportunities in their own countries. These members, whether they become doctors, professors or carpenters, in turn use their skills to bless their families, Church and communities, said Stanley A. Peterson, CES administrator of religious, secondary and elementary education.

"What we're trying to accomplish is to give young people in developing nations an opportunity for an education," he explained. "If we give them a fish, they eat for a day. If we teach them how to fish, they can eat for a lifetime. In other words, education will build the level of people in an area."

Since the inception of the loan program in 1974, 8,502 students have been aided, said Clarence F. Schramm, CES executive assistant to the administrator. Today, the scholarship program aids young people in 53 developing countries in the Caribbean, Latin America, the Pacific, Asia, and Africa.

The program focuses on post-secondary education, but many students in elementary or secondary education are also helped, explained Brother Peterson. A majority of students receiving aid are returned missionaries, he added.

He said these students during their studies are required to make some financial contribution on their part, "no matter how small." Once they complete their education, students are encouraged to pay back to the fund program what they received so others can receive assistance. He explained that neither inflation nor interest affect return payments.

"Rather than providing for them, we want to supplement what they are doing individually. They have the encouragement that there is some help," he said, but added that the program encourages a student to not just lie back `and let somebody do it for me.'"

Someone used to not relying on others is Roxanna L. Merejo, a member of the Oriental stake in Vista Hermosa, Dominican Republic. Baptized in 1983, she held such callings as Relief Society spiritual living teacher and a seminary teacher. While completing studies as a general accountant, she received a mission call. At the same time, she was offered a job in the financial management office in the company at which she was employed. She turned down the job to serve a mission.

Upon her return, she, "with great enthusiasm, faith and courage," wanted to encrease her knowledge of English to better her opportunities for employment. But she didn't have the funds. It was then she learned of the CES scholarship program and applied for a loan. Sister Merejo was able to study English at one of the best-known institutions in her country. Today, she is in charge of the accounting department of the American Chamber of Commerce in the Dominican Republic.

Requirements for students to receive financial aid are based upon need and worthiness, said Brother Peterson. Candidates must be under 30 years old, and must be enrolled in an LDS seminary or in an institute of religion. The potential student applies through the local full-time CES coordinator, after receiving ecclesiastical approval from a local priesthood leader. Applications are sent to Salt Lake City to be reviewed by a Church Educational System committee headed by Brother Peterson. Selections are made at this point, and funds are then allocated back through the local CES coordinator.

Brother Peterson pointed out that "none of the funds in the program are used for students to come into the United States for an education. The money can go 20 times further locally than it can bringing them out of their countries. The costs are much lower [in these countries]."

Brother Schramm cited the example of students from a developing country who are attending school in the United States for more than $680 a month. He said students staying in that country are being educated for $50 a month.

"We could assist 14 students there for every one in the United States," he noted.

Funds to assist these students come from Church appropriations, supplemented by donations, explained Brother Peterson. He said over the years "we have had fine contributions made by people who want to help students in international areas, particularly developing nations."

Brother Schramm said donations can be made to the Church Educational System scholarship fund, and can be designated for specific professions or geographical locations, if desired. He added that the program does not include contributors sponsoring specific individuals.

Brother Peterson pointed out that benefits from the scholarship fund are "obvious. Students are educated in their country. Then they stay there, marry, are active in the Church. They become more productive and become leaders both in the Church and in their communities."

Brother Jimenez and Sister Merejo are examples of those who bless their program. But Brother Peterson emphasized that "as the Church grows, needs become greater. It's tough because we know there are 10 we can't help for every one we can help. The funds haven't increased commensurate with the number of needs."

But he is optimistic about the continued success of this program. "When it's all said and done, what is more important than individual sons and daughters of God?"