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President Johnson’s ‘heartwarming and heart-wrenching’ visit to Uganda with UNICEF

‘This is an effort to go beyond our members to address the needs, the humanitarian needs, of the world’s children, and we found them. It was glorious,’ says President Johnson

As part of her recent nine-day ministry trip to countries in central Africa, Relief Society General President Camille N. Johnson traveled to Uganda to see the aid provided with UNICEF to malnourished children in the area.

President Johnson made the visit with her husband, Brother Douglas R. Johnson, and Elder Ian S. Ardern, a General Authority Seventy and second counselor in the Africa Central Area presidency. They were joined by members of the Church’s Welfare and Self-Reliance Services staff and representatives of UNICEF, according to a report on the Church’s Africa Newsroom. The two organizations have now been working together for a decade.

“This is an effort to go beyond our members to address the needs, the humanitarian needs, of the world’s children, and we found them. It was glorious,” said President Johnson. “It was heartwarming and heart-wrenching at the same time, but I left there feeling hopeful.”

Uganda has faced many challenges in recent years. Ebola, malaria, tuberculosis, cholera, yellow fever, meningitis, severe drought and malnourishment are among them, according to the World Health Organization.  

The Church has focused globally on early childhood nutrition. Last year, the Church donated $5 million to UNICEF’s No Time To Waste global malnutrition campaign.

“Our colleagues in UNICEF were professional and devoted and many times told us that the Church’s contributions have been catalytic, that they really sparked something and got some … of these programs off the ground, including the No Time To Waste program,” President Johnson said.

Observing and serving

President Johnson saw how children were cared for and examined to monitor their progress. Those children who are severely malnourished receive pouches that contain a therapeutic food. The ready-to-use therapeutic food is an energy-dense, micronutrient paste made using peanuts, sugar, milk powder, oil, vitamins and minerals that UNICEF has used to help treat millions of children suffering from severe wasting in northeastern Uganda. UNICEF distributes more than three-fourths of the ready-to-use therapeutic food in the world.

A UNICEF worker uses arm bands to detect malnutrition and measures the height of children in drought-stricken areas of northeastern Uganda, in March 2023.
A UNICEF worker uses arm bands to detect malnutrition and measures the height of children in drought-stricken areas of northeastern Uganda, in March 2023. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

As family members have their health assessed by professionals, the mothers are taught how to use eggs, milk and sorghum — a plant-based protein grown in the area — to make a porridge for their family.

President Johnson had the chance to play with the children, walk with the children and feed the children.

“We were able to feed the children ourselves,” she said. “I had the chance to look right into the eyes of a baby and help feed that baby.”

Relief Society General President Camille N. Johnson and Elder Ian S. Ardern, second counselor in the Africa Central Area presidency, feed children with food provided by UNICEF and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in northeastern Uganda, in March 2023. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The experience gave President Johnson a chance to reflect on what this type of service means for the long term.

“Our future is with these children, and their brain development between the ages of zero and 5 is just critical. Nutrition is critical to that early childhood development. And if we can save a child, our future is bright.”

Providing for some of the immediate needs of the children plus teaching the parents how to continue to improve their health can create a sustainable support system, President Johnson said.

“These are women and some men who are willing to take what they’re learning about appropriate nutrition and how to support and bless their families and take it out to their neighbors. It’s ministering. As it turns out, it’s ministering to the one, and we found the one,” she said.

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