As a pre-mission teenager studying at Brigham Young University, I took an interesting non-profit leadership class. It has been satisfying to look over some of the papers I wrote for that class and to see how my understanding and writing style have progressed. While this text certainly doesn’t represent my best work, I thought I’d include it here just for fun. It tells the story of a philanthropist I know and offers insight in to the Mormon dedication to humanitarian service.
The Andes towered like giant gods over the Sacred Valley beneath, keeping careful watch over the Incan people. Their empire, larger than Rome’s, stood firm and immovable, as powerful, it seemed, as the green mountain-gods who cared for it, and yet fragile, even fleeting, a feather being tossed on the erratic winds of history. That history, for the Incan Empire, at least, ended in crimson as Pizarro with his men and diseases destroyed the mightiest of nations. Yet the history of the individuals that were the foundation of that Empire did not end with Pizarro’s conquest; their ancestors continue to inhabit the beautiful Sacred Valley where the green of the verdure battles the blue of the sky. The mountain-gods, who for so many centuries smiled down upon the Inca, still tower over the Sacred Valley, but now there is hatred in their eyes. They have forsaken, it would seem, the Inca who loved them, and have left their people in poverty.
Peru, the home of many Inca, is in dire straits. The nation laid claim to twelve million poor in 1995 and suffers from massive unemployment1
. Chief among the afflicted are those who live in the secluded villages of the Sacred Valley, high up in the Andes’ mountains. Their villages are inaccessible by car and lack not only many of the modern conveniences but the archaic ones as well. Dysentery and disease ravage the old and young alike, and education is rarely offered above the elementary level. Nutrition and sanitary food preparation are unavailable, and the women and children, those who are the most fragile, suffer the most at the hands of hunger and disease2
Fate, that fickle woman who with poisoned lips kissed the Empire she had loved, is now sending new gods, this time in human form, to replace the mountain ones who have abandoned the Inca. In this essay I’d like to talk about one of them, an seemingly ordinary man by the name of Brother Kelly Shepherd, who is perhaps even more Celestial than the Sacred Valley he hopes to save.
Because I have been blessed by thy great love, dear Lord, I’ll share thy love again, according to thy word. I shall give love to those in need; I’ll show that love by word and deed: thus shall my thanks be thanks indeed.
Sometime in August or July of 1997, Jaime Figueroa, a BYU alumnus with a masters in international rural development, asked Brother Shepard to help him find away to aid the Peruvian poor.
“Because of my great respect for [Jaime] and my latent love of the people,” Brother Shepard confided, “I told him I would be delighted to help. It’s been in my mind and in my heart for the last 30 years since I served as missionary in Peru. Once called, [missionaries] are always called.”
Thus motivated by both his intellect and his heart, Bother Shepard, with the aid of several others, undertook the difficult task of establishing the Humanitarian Foundation of the Andes, an international organization dedicated to improving the lives of the impoverished Peruvian highlanders. Rather than jumping hastily into a black and unknown pit, Brother Shepard recognized the importance of shining a light on the task before him.
“I think long term, long range foundations and businesses really have to key into structure and organization,” Brother Shepard counciled. “There is a period of incubation.”
For Kelly, that “period of incubation,” which lasted about a year, involved careful research and planning. After all, the foundation would be useless unless it was long-term, and inadequate planning was the surest way to poison the project.
“As we tried to evaluate what would work for us, we did a field inspection and talked and met with the district president for the LDS church,” Brother Shepard described. “[The people's] heartache and pain caught our compassion, and we decided that that was the area for us to start.”
“I would strongly suggest that [potential humanitarians] do their homework before they begin,” Brother Shepherd continued when I asked him what advice he would give to others. “I think you need to surround yourself with people who have experiences with what you’re trying to accomplish, whether it be in the field or in the classroom.”
Brother shepherd took his own advice to heart as he meticulously planned for the project, placing several BYU professors on the board of trustees and relying heavily on Jaime Figueroa’s experience.
“The key is that you need to have five or six people that are the real stable backbone of the foundation,” Brother Shepherd counciled, “and then you can proceed and try to involve many more.”
Together, Brother Shepherd and his board of trustees developed a far reaching program that would involve hundreds in the cause of improving literacy, hygiene, agriculture, and quality of life.
Because I have been sheltered, fed, by thy good care, I cannot see another’s lack and I not share my glowing fire, my loaf of bread, my roof’s safe shelter overhead, that he too may be comforted.
Once the necessary planning had taken place, Brother Shepherd, chairman of the foundation, as well as the 10 to 12 member board of trustees, began their efforts to comfort the Peruvian people. To provide for their needs, Brother Shepherd recognized that money alone would not be enough. The foundation had to get people down to Peru and put them to work.
“In the last two expeditions, the one in August and the one at Thanksgiving, there were 105 people who went and participated in humanitarian field projects,” Brother Shepherd said with a gleam in his eye. “They are just individuals from the Utah area that have an interest in that part of the world, an interest in the cultural giving humanitarian experience.”
“The more people that you are able to involve from a giving point of view, the more lives you can effect,” he continued, referring to blessing the lives of the Peruvians and the humanitarians alike. “I can give you story after story of adult’s and young people’s lives who will forever be effected by having [participated in these humanitarian field projects]. When you go into [the Peruvians'] lives as a tourist there’s no way that you can have the same types of experiences that a humanitarian has when he comes into a village and shares his life with them.”
Brother Shepherd and his teams of volunteers did just that; they shared their lives with the Peruvian people and, in the process, uplifted both themselves and the South Americans.
Literacy is the key to self improvement, and the Humanitarian Foundation of the Andes didn’t hesitate when confronted with the formidable reading problems of the Peruvian people. In the November expedition alone, the humanitarians, aided by Salt Lake City’s Reid School, provided over 250 books to the remote village of Patacancha, where they established a Spanish book library. Volunteers even built the book cases the texts are stored on3
In that same expedition, the foundation also provided 300 literacy packets and installed 10 computers with children’s educational software, all in hopes that the literacy of the Peruvians might be improved4
. Many of the Peruvians are not familiar with computers, so the machines will not only cultivate literacy but will also familiarize the young children with the very devices that sit on every American desktop and, to a large extent, drive our modern economy.
Health and Hygiene
The foundation’s efforts to improve health and hygiene among the Peruvians have also been phenomenal. The November expedition provided dental exams and dental work for 280 people, diabetes tests for 300 people, 8 of which had serious cases of the disease, and new-born kits for 300 mothers5
The volunteers also distributed 400 personal hygiene packets, including shampoo, toothbrushes, soap, and safety pins, to the people of Peru, benefiting over 650 individuals6
“The 400 packets were handed out to small groups of villagers at health fairs,” Brother Shepherd noted, adding that the project director, Jaime Figueroa, personally gave half hour lessons on how to use the packets. “When you think of the involvement of the people that donated the energy and the time to bring those packets together, and knowing that they are going to go to people who don’t have a safety net, that’s a great life-impacting incident.”
“We also built a medical post last August,” Brother Shepherd continued, a smile on his face, “and the November group had a dentist and a massage therapist who worked side by side with the Peruvian doctors and dentists. That building will be there for decades to come.”
Brother Shepherd then told the story of one particular humanitarian, a doctor who cared enough to give the gift of sight to hundreds of men and women he had never met.
“I’m not sure if Dr. Burn is an optomologist or an optometrist,” Brother Shepherd began, “but, when he went down last August, in 4 days he visited 900 patients and took with him about 700 pairs of eyeglasses that had been donated. He and some people with the foundation met with each and every Peruvian who had lined up and waited for hours upon hours. He came back, and he’ll never be the same. He’s going to return this April or June and will perform some cataract surgery, now that the medical post has been build, on some of the people he helped with eyeglasses.”
Without food, health care and education become meaningless. With that idea in mind, the Andean foundation built green houses high in the mountains last August, hoping to provide food and, consequently, opportunity for the mountain peoples.
Aside from greenhouses, the foundation also provided some spontaneous agricultural assistance. Sometimes the projects that benefit people the most are the ones that aren’t planned
“So what do we do?” Brother Shepherd asked after he told me about a project that fell through. “Well, you move on and you do another project. At the same time we had a grinder there, an electric grinder that we ran off the generator that we sent down in August, and we had hundreds of these villagers lined up with their machetes and their hoes and their shovels, all duller than a rock, and they brought them in and we sharpened all their tools.”
“It was a glorious moment to see that happen,” Brother Shepherd added, a twinkle in his eye.
Quality of Life
It is one thing to provide health care, agriculture, and literacy, but the foundation did not stop with the essentials. Quality of life — the everyday comforts we enjoy — is something that is largely foreign to the Peruvians.
“We installed some sewer and some water lines into [homes that have never had those conveniences],” Brother Shepherd commented. “Both the giver and the receiver had wonderful experiences that will build life-time memories.”
“Plus the people who are going in April are going to be putting in bathrooms and showers and a building to house the bathrooms and showers at an elementary school that has no bathrooms,” Brother Shepherd continued, commenting on some other convinces the foundation intended to provide. “Most of the kids that go to this school have no bathrooms or showers in their homes. Our group, with the assistance of some of the villagers and our foundation people, will build the facility with bathrooms and showers for 107 school children.
“A great thing,” he added in excitement, ” a wonderful thing, for those that are giving and those that are receiving there!”
“And we’ve also been able to assist a small village with a community center,” he continued in an excited voice, hardly stopping even to take a breath. “They put up all the adobe bricks, and we bought the roof and the windows and the doors. When we arrived they had the roof on and our people worked part of the day with them putting in the windows, putting in the doors, and having a cultural exchange.”
Because I have been given much, I too must give. Because of thy great bounty, Lord, each day I live I shall divide my gifts from thee with every brother that I see who has the need of help from me.
Though the foundation has benefited thousands, Brother Shepard did offer some words of warning to those who might follow in his footsteps.
“Was it harder to start the foundation or was it harder to keep it going?” I asked naively.
“I’d say harder to keep it going,” he said, erupting in laughter.
“Things weren’t all rosy,” Brother Shepherd continued one he had stopped giggling, “and there have been things that have backfired or haven’t gone well. We’ve had 105 people go in the last two expeditions, and every one of them has a story. Forty to fifty percent of them got sick with dysentery or back colds or pneumonia. But you just go with the flow. You get in the field and work with these people.”
“Since last May until now, I probably have averaged maybe thirty to forty hours a week,” he continued when I asked him about personal difficulties. “The cause is wonderful, but you get to the point of burnout. Not that the cause isn’t marvelous, but the efforts to make it perpetuate itself go beyond one’s capacity to invest and still maintain a stable life, and that’s one reason why we’re looking at the possibility of hiring a local director.”
The volunteers in the field, too, were under tremendous pressure.
“I think in hind cite there were some instances when we tried to do too much too quickly. To build a forteen-hundered square foot humanitarian center in five days, which is what our August expedition did, the people who got there worked from sun up to sun set. Thirty people out of sixty-five, that’s all they did every day.”
“You know, it’s a marvelous accomplishment,” he said as he chuckled, “but still, it’s not easy!”
The love evident in Brother Shepherd’s voice and the glimmer in his eyes, however, made me certain that he’d do it all over again, for he learned something about others and about himself that he could never have understood in any other way.
“As you see the way that some of the people took the . . .,” he paused emotionally, catching his breath, “. . . the opportunity to mirror their life to a place they’ve never been, to a person they’ve never met. Those experiences really give an adrenalized appreciation for some of the wonderful people with which we live.”
“And as for me,” he continued ,”there’s been some real highs and some real lows. I think I’ve always had a desire to be charitable and to feel like I could warrant the title of being a humanitarian. I think all of us members of the church would like to see ourselves as humanitarians, whether towards our next door neighbor, our children, or our wife, or someone as far away as Peru. I’ve had a chance to feel like I’m a citizen of the world. I think that’s a statement that’s stuck with me, that I have a love and a desire for the people of the world.”
“Now I’ve had a chance to experience first had the vast contrast of lifestyle between us and the people high up in the Andes in Peru and to actually understand how rich and how great the blessings of my life are,” Brother Shepherd whispered. “The opportunity to have my wife and three of my kids on the last expedition was a marvelous thing. To see their interaction and the ability that they have to be touched by giving of themselves.”
“I come home from an expedition like that, and I jump into my Grand Cherokee vehicle or drive up to my nice house and think, life isn’t fair, and because it is not fair, it makes me feel like . . .,” brother Shepherd again paused emotionally, for about ten seconds, “I need to find ways to give of ourselves and of our blessings.”
Brother Shepard’s method was simple: he saw a need, recognized it intellectually, and then let his genuine love motivate him. He doesn’t serve for the fame or glory of men. He doesn’t care if his good deeds are done in secret; indeed, I think there are many members of our ward who are unaware of his efforts. He serves because he loves the people, and because he loves the Lord.
1. From “Expedition Handbook,” a document published by the Humanitarian Foundation of the Andes, page 5.
2. From “Expedition Handbook,” a document published by the Humanitarian Foundation of the Andes, page 6.
3. From “Recent Humanitarian Activities of Humanitarian Foundation of the Andes,’” a document published by the Humanitarian Foundation of the Andes, page 1.
4. From “Recent Humanitarian Activities of Humanitarian Foundation of the Andes,’” a document published by the Humanitarian Foundation of the Andes, page 2.
5. From “Recent Humanitarian Activities of Humanitarian Foundation of the Andes,’” a document published by the Humanitarian Foundation of the Andes, page 1.
6. From “Recent Humanitarian Activities of Humanitarian Foundation of the Andes,’” page 1, and “Adopt a Village n the Sacred Valley of Peru,” page 3, both documents published by the Humanitarian Foundation of the Andes