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Vanderlei Lira is a Brazilian national who completed the LDS Church's Perpetual Education Fund (PEF) program and found employment.

PROVO — Vanderlei Lira returned to Sao Paolo, Brazil, from a two-year mission for the LDS Church and attempted to enroll in a technical school.

He couldn't afford it, however. He hoped tuition prices would decrease but they didn't, not the next year or the one after that. He tried again and again, for a total of eight years, to no avail.

Then, in the spring of 2001, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints introduced the Perpetual Education Fund, which provided him with a loan to pay for his tuition. After he graduated first in his class as an occupational safety engineer, the school hired him — for more than three times what he'd ever made before — to oversee safety during the construction of its new campus.

Lira reduced accidents by 80 percent, had more time to serve in the church and "his wife and children now have sufficient for their needs," Elder John K. Carmack said Tuesday during a devotional address at Brigham Young University. "This is an example that could be replicated hundreds of times."

In fact, the PEF has now made about 13,000 loans, and Elder Carmack, who serves as the fund's managing director, said it is an efficient way for affluent members of the LDS Church to solve two problems — how to give to the needy in a way that produces lasting help and how to reduce the chasm between American members and their impoverished counterparts in other areas of the world.

"Giving in the wrong way often causes more problems than it solves," Elder Carmack said. "Our giving can be wasted, even when given with the best of intentions. And handouts often weaken more than they strengthen."

The PEF provides low-interest loans — about 3 percent is charged, according to the church's Web site — to members between the ages of 18 and 30.

"PEF is not just another humanitarian project but is uniquely postured to meet deeper and more fundamental needs of young adults mired in poverty," Elder Carmack said.

LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, who introduced the program, "provided church members with a simple and marvelous way to bring our people out of poverty and want, gain financial stability and become successful citizens in their own lands," Elder Carmack said. "In showing the way, he dodged the give-away approach to helping the poor by establishing a loan program rather than offering grants."

Mana Vautier, a junior from Auckland, New Zealand, attended Tuesday's devotional and said he has seen the poverty among church members in his own country and in Sydney, Australia, where he served a mission.

"There's a need, definitely, for the PEF," Vautier said. "The biggest impact on me from this talk was the privilege I have to be here and get an education at BYU. My own family couldn't be considered rich, but in comparison to the circumstances a lot of the rest of the world is in, we are very blessed. The PEF is a wonderful project, to give education to others who can't afford it."

Elder Carmack said that is the key. He urged the students in attendance to take the spirit of service and sacrifice with them into the world when they graduate."

"And in doing these things," he said, "we bridge the gulf between those enjoying material abundance and those mired in poverty."

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