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In the spring 2001 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Mormon Church, President Gordon B. Hinckley announced to the world the establishment of a Perpetual Education Fund. The purpose of the fund is to provide money for Mormons in poor countries so they can obtain an education. At this occasion, President Hinckley said:
- [W]e face another problem in the Church. We have many missionaries, both young men and young women, who are called locally and who serve with honor in Mexico, Central America, South America, the Philippines, and other places. They have very little money, but they make a contribution with what they have. They are largely supported from the General Missionary Fund to which many of you contribute, and for these contributions we are very deeply grateful.
- They become excellent missionaries working side by side with elders and sisters sent from the United States and Canada. While in this service they come to know how the Church operates. They develop a broadened understanding of the gospel. They learn to speak some English. They work with faith and devotion. Then comes the day of their release. They return to their homes. 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.
- Because of limited abilities, they are not likely to become leaders in the Church. They are more likely to find themselves in need of welfare help. They will marry and rear families who will continue in the same cycle that they have known. Their future is bleak indeed. There are some others who have not gone on missions who find themselves in similar circumstances in development of skills to lift them from the ranks of the poor.
The solution came to him through revelation from God. Inspired by the Perpetual Emigration Fund established by Brigham Young to help the Mormon pioneers cross the plains to Utah, President Hinckley said, "[W]e shall call it the Perpetual Education Fund. From the earnings of this fund, loans will be made to ambitious young men and women, for the most part returned missionaries, so that they may borrow money to attend school. Then when they qualify for employment, it is anticipated that they will return that which they have borrowed. . ." (Ensign, May 2001, p 51)
Through the years the Mormon Church has a solid history of taking care of the poor, and of teaching the poor to help themselves. In 1849 there were about 6000 members in the Salt Lake Valley but many thousands more were abroad, primarily in England. Under President Young's leadership a plan was devised to help these mostly poor members, but with valuable skills, come to Utah. This plan was called The Perpetual Emigration Fund. Under this plan, money was loaned to members who had no means to get to Utah. It was expected that when they got here they would pay off the loan. This was a revolving fund; as the money was returned it would then be loaned to the next family to permit them to emigrate. By the end of 1855, almost 22,000 members had been helped, and by 1870 when the transcontinental railroad was completed, it was estimated that about 50,000 people had been assisted.
The Perpetual Education Fund is set up similarly to the Perpetual Emigration Fund. The money will be loaned to people who have the desire to gain an education but do not have the funds to achieve this goal. When they have completed their education and find a job, they are expected to repay the loan. Right now the loans are mostly given to returned missionaries wishing to enter technical schools. It is hoped that as the fund grows, there will be money available to help people who want to attend University and study for more professional degrees. Those who wish to receive funds discuss the matter with their bishops and then stake presidents, to help them determine the amount needed.
The funds for this program are mostly derived from donations from members of the Church. When the fund was announced, “hundreds of thousands opened their purses and sent what they could to the fund—in addition to their tithing and fast offerings. The fund grew, almost overnight, to major proportions. President Hinckley called it a miracle.
The fund has been extremely successful. As of April, 2005, 18,000 people in 27 different countries had received an education because of the Perpetual Education Fund. It is fulfilling the purpose President Hinckley said it should serve when the program was announced, “Where there is widespread poverty among our people, we must do all we can to help them to lift themselves, to establish their lives upon a foundation of self-reliance that can come of training. Education is the key to opportunity.”
End 2009 Update
As of the end of 2009, over 40,000 men and women throughout the world receive education, training and employment opportunities to better their lives and the lives of their families. The number is double that of 2008, and managers foresee a time when the fund will help 100,000 Latter-day Saints. The PEF serves poor members of the Church in 42 countries. Reports indicate that already more than 10 percent of the Church’s local ecclesiastical leaders from Columbia, Ecuador and Venezuela are graduates of the program. President Monson has said the PEF effort is expanding and that “those young people are finding jobs and they’re able to repay the loans. The Perpetual Education Fund is a miracle that will go far into the future.” 
To make a donation to the fund, see the official Perpetual Education Fund website.