In 1985, two precedent-setting letters from the First Presidency called upon Church members in the United States and Canada to join in special fasts. The funds donated during these fasts would be “dedicated for the use of victims of famine and other causes resulting in hunger and privation among people of Africa, and possibly some other areas.” The letters promised that “all funds contributed … will … assist the hungry and needy in distressed areas regardless of Church membership.” The Saints’ combined outpouring of compassion yielded almost eleven million dollars.The article also describes two members who volunteered with Africare on a Church-sponsored project to set up equipment and train local residents in drilling water wells. Projects in Niger, Chad, and other areas around the world are described. On the Church's ongoing commitment to humanitarian work that has been only growing over the last 25 years, it says:
Immediately following the first special fast in January 1985, Church leaders identified “organizations of unquestioned integrity” that the Church could assist in distributing food, tents, and medical supplies to suffering victims in Ethiopia and neighboring African nations. During the remainder of 1985 and most of 1986, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services, and CARE delivered the Church-provided relief supplies.
In the spirit of the Church’s welfare services’ philosophy of helping people to help themselves, however, General Authorities determined that some money should also go into projects that would promote long-term self-reliance. So a portion of the donations was channeled into several projects like the one in Geddobar. Most of these activities, carried out in Ethiopia, Chad, Niger, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Ghana, have focused on water and agricultural development as a hedge against future drought. (See accompanying sidebars for details on some of these projects.) Monies from the second special fast held in November 1985 are currently being allocated for projects in other areas of Africa, as well as on other continents where severe need exists.
Church humanitarian assistance is part of our obligation to our fellowman, no matter what their creed or form of government. Reporting on a visit to Ethiopia, Bishop Glenn L. Pace wrote, “Our contributions helped all people irrespective of their political affiliation. When Elder [M. Russell] Ballard and I walked the land, we didn’t see Communists, Marxists or Capitalists, but hungry people, all sons and daughters of God.” (Church News, 26 December 1986, p. 3.The article describes the water projects in Ethiopia and their success in depth. I have regularly blogged about the Church's ongoing efforts to provide water in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
When it is completed this summer, these farmers will have contributed more than 200,000 man-days of labor to the project. Sacrifice is not uncommon; some workers walk two to three hours from their mountain homes to put in a ten-and-a-half-hour workday, then walk home again. The average worker contributes five to eight days of labor per month on the project. A food-for-work system provides each worker with about six and a half pounds of grain for a day’s labor.
While high technology and modern equipment could have been used to shorten the construction time and lessen the human effort, the project was deliberately designed to be completed by residents using indigenous materials and local tools. This allowed the people to help themselves and to develop a pride of ownership in the finished product. ...
The Ethiopian government has quickly realized the value of having water available year-round in the valley, and it points to the project as a model that other humanitarian agencies can replicate. In the words of one government leader, “This is a very important project, and we want others to mirror [it]. It provides lifelong independence for these people—they can double or triple their output. ...