J. Alfonso Robledo, Mexico, was jobless, cramped in a small room at the bottom of a rotting staircase and struggling to provide for his wife and young daughter. He had few options and little hope of finding a job that would provide him the means of getting his family out of a difficult situation. Fortunately, he was able to turn his life around with the support of his wife and the Perpetual Education Fund.
Eleven years ago, President Gordon B. Hinckley stepped up to the pulpit and spoke to the priesthood of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regarding a new plan to help faithful members gain a proper education and become leaders in the world and in the Church.
Eleven years later, the prophetic vision of President Hinckley is evident, with thousands like Alfonso being provided the opportunity to gain an education and learn skills that will not only benefit themselves and their families, but allow them to become prominent leaders in the Church.
Elder John K. Carmack, executive director of the Perpetual Education Fund, recalls the early beginnings of the plan, and how it has developed into what it is today.
“It has taken a lot of time, a lot of people and a lot of creativity, but the program is a big success helping individuals in about 53 countries around the world,” Elder Carmack said.
Before Francini Presença from Brazil used the PEF to further her education, she was jobless in Manaus and lacking professional experience to help her land a good job. Her father had passed away a few months earlier, and there wasn’t enough money in the family to provide her with a means of reaching university.
It was her stake president, who was the city’s LDS institute director, who encouraged her to sign up for the PEF.
“PEF was the springboard to help me reach my professional success,” Presença said. “Using the PEF, I was able to go to college for two years and study marketing administration. At university I not only learned marketing but also how to act as a professional and as a better citizen. I grew as a human being.”
PEF is modeled after the Perpetual Emigration Fund, which was established more than 150 years ago. The emigration fund was established to help faithful saints from around the world gather to Zion. It is estimated that as a result of the Emigration Fund, more than 30,000 saints arrived.
The layout of the PEF is very simple. Applicants apply for a loan and upon acceptance are given what they need for their education. When they are done, they are expected to make small monthly payments, until they have repaid the amount they were given.
According to Elder Carmack, the program issuccessful, with the majority of people repaying their loans. To date, there has never been a rejection of an applicant because of lack of funds.
When Robledo finished his program, he was able to obtain a job working as a computer graphics designer, earning twice as much as he did before, and Presença is now working for the largest bank in Brazil. Robledo and Presença aren’t the only success stories. Thousands have been aided and have seen their situations improve dramatically.
Brazil has the largest number of recipients at around 13,000, while Peru, Chile and Mexico also have many recipients.
There has also been a recent increase in the number of participants being aided in Africa.
In 2010, a pilot program was conducted in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 20 students were chosen for the program. By 2011, the PEF had expanded to five stakes in the DRC and began to help hundreds of people looking for greater opportunities through a proper education.
Over in Ghana, Charlotte Quansah saw the PEF as a means to help herself gain stable employment and help her family pay for the future education of its other members.
“I am now in my third year of school, preparing to become a teacher, and I look forward to graduating soon,” Quansah said. “I wish to thank all who contribute to the Perpetual Education Fund, and I thank my family for making sacrifices to allow me to make my PEF payments and go to school.”
According to Elder Richard Stagg and Sister Suzanne Stagg, who were called as country coordinators for the PEF in the DR Congo, there are two major qualities of a good employee, competence and character.
“President Hinckley stressed that a PEF student must attend Institute of Religion, this is where they learn character,” the Stagg said in an email. “Competence is learned through their schooling.”
One of the greatest blessings Elder Carmack has received in working on the PEF is to have seen the hand of the Lord throughout the process.
“From the beginning of the program until now, we have felt the hand of the Lord very directly,” Carmack said. “In my case, I had had a dream regarding something like this before President Hinckley asked me to lead this project. Since that call, through prayer and revelation, this program has come from a prophetic revelation to an incredible church program.”