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Delivering hope with humanitarian aid

NAIROBI, Kenya — Imagine a school without a chalkboard or students without writing materials and it might seem rather difficult to learn in such a setting. But students here at the Jikaze Academy — located in the slums at the edge of the city — have managed to overcome obstacles and learn, and make do with what they have.

LDS teens from Ogden, Utah, prepare school kits delivered to school children in Nairobi, Kenya.
LDS teens from Ogden, Utah, prepare school kits delivered to school children in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Photo by Sheridan Sheffield

That's the way of life in Kenya, Africa, where people struggle to live day to day. Now, with the help of Church members, life may be a little bit easier for students at the Jikaze Academy.

Young men and women from the Ogden 78th Ward, Burch Creek Utah Stake, assembled school bags during a recent activity. The young women sewed cloth bags while the young men prepared small chalkboards for the kits. Once completed, the bags were filled with notebooks, pencils, sharpeners, pencil and chalk erasers, chalk and scissors.

The kits were then donated to the Humanitarian Service Center— an arm of the welfare program of the Church— and hand-delivered to the children by Welfare Services missionaries.

The school, which is made of mud, stone and sticks, was without a chalkboard and other writing materials, so the teachers were excited about the little chalkboards, paper and pencils included in the kits. Students are now able to do their schoolwork in written form. Although timid at first, the children seemed very appreciative of their new school bags.

"Now the teachers can help the students one on one," said Elder Sherman B. Sheffield, country director for humanitarian service in Kenya. "It brings great hope to them, to receive even just a small bag like this. This builds hope that they can do something with their lives, and gives them courage to keep fighting the battle of life.

"The fact that our young people prepared the kits and were willing to help other young children [in need] — what a marvelous exemplification of the scriptures, 'Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.' (Matthew 25:40.) I am sure the youth have grown doing it, and the people here are so grateful. They are deeply grateful for anything we can do. They are humble and appreciative."

For the youth in the Ogden 78th Ward, it was a chance to reach across the globe and help others in a simple way. They didn't care which part of the world the bags were sent, just that they reached children in need.

"I felt blessed to help with this project," said Spencer Houtz, 16, a priest. "It always reminds me how much I have and how little others have. It's nice to know you're making an impact even in another country, especially where they don't have the resources we have. I'm just glad I could do a service project because helping less fortunate people helps you feel good about yourself and about what you are doing."

Church members in Jakarta, Indonesia, pack hygiene kits for East Timorese refugees.
Church members in Jakarta, Indonesia, pack hygiene kits for East Timorese refugees. Photo: Photo courtesy Welfare Services

In a country with a 65 percent or more unemployment rate, every bit of assistance helps. Elder Sheffield and his wife, Sister Karma Rae Sheffield, spend their time providing life-sustaining resources to people in emergencies, strengthening families to become self-reliant and in any other opportunity for service they see.

"We are trying to develop self-reliance among the very poor," Elder Sheffield explained. "We are helping all of God's children, and we primarily work with non-members."

Assisting a poor and humble neighborhood school has been just one part of their work as humanitarian service missionaries. They have helped supply desks, benches and other school equipment, as well as latrines.

"These are some very humble schools, community schools in the slums with no support from the government," Elder Sheffield said. "We try to do things to help these schools be functional so the students can learn."

One of their recent projects included coordinating a shipment of wheat packed by members in England and sent to Ethiopia to help feed the hungry in that drought-stricken nation. They were able to oversee the grain distribution to families in greatest need.

"Families returned home with their grain allotment with the assistance of camels and donkeys. Some traveled as far as 10 walking hours away, while the average was 3 to 5 walking hours to home," Sister Sheffield explained. "By the end of the week of distribution some 77,000 beneficiaries received our LDS wheat from the two South Wello, Ethiopia, distribution centers."

Improving water resources is another focus of the humanitarian service work in East Africa. Projects include drilling water wells, capping springs and putting in hand pumps.

"Getting water to the people is a major concern because their life is so much harder without water sources nearby, Elder Sheffield noted. "Every day the women and children go get water from the river or wherever they can get it and carry it home on their heads or backs."

School children in Nairobi, Kenya.
School children in Nairobi, Kenya.

Other projects they have worked on include bringing in containers of medical supplies, books, agricultural tools and grain mills. They have also brought in sewing machines, bike repair items and carpentry materials to help teach the people a vocation to be self-reliant.

"We work with the poor and the poorest," Elder Sheffield said. "At least 65 percent of the people don't have jobs. They might get training, but still can't find jobs."

The Sheffields, one of 144 humanitarian service missionaries currently serving worldwide, work in cooperation with government officials, community leaders and other voluntary organizations and non-governmental organizations to provide life-sustaining resources to people in emergencies, to help strengthen families to become self-reliant and to find opportunities for giving and service.

All their work is coordinated through the Church's Welfare Services Department. Other recent humanitarian projects completed during the summer and coordinated by welfare service missionaries include:

  • More than 30,000 hygiene kits were packed by members in Jakarta, Indonesia, and sent to East Timorese refugees. In addition, the Church sent eight containers of clothing that were distributed by Elder Terry and Sister Danne Morris. More than 150,000 refugees fled East Timor this year, many to refugee camps in West Timor, where the Church's aid was directed.

    "The cooperation of Muslims and Christians in Indonesia is a rare event and signals a new era of goodwill among the people of this great nation," said Elder Morris. "There are new feelings of respect cemented by goodwill and by working together for the common cause of helping the less fortunate. The influence of this project will reach far into the future and provide a firm basis for continued cooperation. The hygiene kits and eight containers will be put to good use. We felt the Spirit strongly during the project and know that again the Lord lined things up so that it could be successful."

    Church members in Sandy, Utah, pack food boxes to be sent to drought-stricken Mongolia.
    Church members in Sandy, Utah, pack food boxes to be sent to drought-stricken Mongolia. Photo: Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver
  • During Oct. 14-16, Church officials presented to the East Timorese goods, food, tools and clothing, donated by members in Australia. The aid followed a $75,000 check presented to East Timor representative Abel Guterres earlier this year. The money came from revenues from the Church farm in New South Wales. Elder Victor D. Cave, an Area Authority Seventy and second counselor in the Australia/New Zealand Area presidency, said Church members feel deeply about the plight of the East Timorese.
  • In response to a harsh winter and subsequent drought in Mongolia, this summer the Church sent three shipping containers of clothing and quilts in addition to 8,000 food boxes, packed by more than 300 members of the Sandy Utah Crescent Park and the Sandy Utah Crescent Park South stakes.

    Elder Eldon and Irene Angle delivered many of the quilts to families in need. One family lived in a dark house with two army cots, but no pillows, sheets or blankets. "The roof/ceiling leaked and sagged at least a foot and fear was expressed by the family that it might cave in," said Elder Angle. "There was no place to hang clothing, no plumbing, no refrigerator, nor oven. The walls were not insulated and there were lots of ways for cold to come through."

    Elder and Sister Angle gave each family member a quilt. "We felt great satisfaction . . . ," Elder Angle said, "but [the quilt] won't begin to keep them warm in the minus 40 degree winter nights. They need several quilts apiece, but so do thousands of others."

    All those who received Church humanitarian aid expressed appreciation, "not just for the quilt, but for the caring people who had come into [their] lives," said Elder Angle.

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