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Education is the Key to Opportunity

Education is the Key to Opportunity

When Viwe Xozwa’s first returned from his mission, his schedule was demanding. He awoke at 2 a.m. to study, attended school from 8 a.m. to noon, and then worked until 6 p.m. Viwe didn’t regret his busy schedule—he was grateful just for the opportunity created by others’ generosity.

Now a 27-year-old computer engineer and the Elder’s Quorum President in his ward in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Viwe attributes many of his blessings to the Perpetual Education Fund. “I would not be where I am right now in my life,” he said, “if that inspired program had not been established.”

At the April 2001 general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Gordon B. Hinckley announced a “bold initiative” to help youth in developing areas to “step out of the cycle of poverty.” Speaking of returned missionaries and other ambitious young men and women who have great capacity but meager opportunities, he said, “I believe the Lord does not wish to see His people condemned to live in poverty. I believe He would have the faithful enjoy the good things of the earth.” He then announced the creation of the Perpetual Education Fund.

In his address, President Hinckley spoke of the challenges these young people face. He said, “Their hopes are high. But many of them have great difficulty finding employment because they have no skills. They sink right back into the pit of poverty from which they came.”

Since the creation of the PEF, more than 32,000 young people have received loans. Thousands more qualify each year.

PEF Loans Originated

PEF Loans Originated

Improves productivity, ends poverty

While he always planned to attend college, Viwe lacked the funds to pay for school. A bank loan was a possibility, but higher interest rates would have increased the cost and time required to repay the loan. Then, Viwe heard about the PEF from a Church Educational System couple in his area. He applied for and received a $1,150 PEF loan and enrolled in computer engineering at Damelin College in Port Elizabeth.

After nearly a year of study, Viwe was offered a job at an IT consulting firm. Because of his employment, he was able to pay off his loan the following year, and the company has sponsored his further studies for the past four years in disciplines such as labor relations, corporate governance, business administration and management, and advanced project management.

By providing loans for vocational, professional, technical, and training at a low interest rate, the PEF program helps ambitious participants learn employment skills and develop self-reliance and independence without accruing a lot of debt. But the PEF is more than just a loan—it helps people see their potential. It teaches them to plan—to choose a great career, select the right education, find work, and organize their finances.

Managed locally, funded globally

The PEF program started in Mexico, Peru, and Chile, and has spread to 40 countries including Mongolia, Cambodia, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, some Pacific islands, and most of Latin America. Other areas will be added when possible.

The PEF helps students get into a school that will qualify them for a successful job in the area where they live. Education is usually completed in one or two years, although PEF loans can be approved for up to four years.

Worthy young men and women can qualify for a PEF loan if they are between 18 and 30 years of age, active in the Church, and enrolled in the local institute of religion. They should live, work, and attend school in an area where the program is approved, and lack the resources to finance an education.

The PEF program is funded by members who contribute on their donation slips or through LDS Philanthropies. The money collected (the principal) is never spent. Loans are made only from the interest earned on the principal. As students repay their loans, the money goes back into the fund to aid other individuals, making it a perpetual fund.

Perpetuates gratitude, opens doors

Knowing where his loan came from helped motivate Viwe to do well in school and pay off his loan. 'I realized these were sacred funds,' he said. 'Others had made a contribution to my education, so it was my responsibility to show appreciation by studying hard.'

In addition to providing financial opportunities, the PEF enables young adults to grow in the gospel. Many program graduates have gone on to become Church leaders and are fortifying the Church in their countries.

Brother Xozwa’s experience has taught him leadership skills and independence in addition to self-reliance and the desire to keep commitments. “It’s not just education,” he said. “It’s not just a career. It’s so much more than that. It opens doors for you to grow individually.”