Jason Wolfe '99: Our Man in Afghanistan ...
and Pakistan, Ecuador, Moldova, the Philippines, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia ...
“We’ve gotten to a better place of cooperation,” he says, “but it’s still really challenging.” Although an improvised explosive device (IED) was detonated on the other side of Mazar-i-Sharif while he was there monitoring a program, Wolfe says he never felt threatened. But outside of the capital city of Kabul, he felt “a bit like a target.”
“I tried not to think about it, but everyone knows who you are,” Wolfe says. “People can spot armored vehicles and people wearing flak jackets a mile away.”
Wolfe also has spent a lot of time recently in Africa strengthening economic supports for children orphaned or made vulnerable by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It’s part of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), established by President George W.Bush. PEPFAR already was providing education, nutrition, health and psychosocial support to the children of parents killed or sickened by the disease. But Wolfe’s office is targeting the increasing economic burden that extended families, many headed by 60- to 80-year-old grandmothers, experience when caring for additional children.
One safe, simple solution supported by USAID is savings clubs. Villagers in these clubs save money jointly in a box equipped with two locks, with two separate people holding the keys. Villagers can borrow from the box at an agreed upon interest rate and repay their loans within a year or two, at which point the savings and interest earnings are redistributed to all club members. “It creates an alternative to going to a money lender who would charge exorbitant interest, or putting their savings under a mattress, or digging a hole,” says Wolfe.
Wolfe also paid a recent visit to Mozambique, where a USAID project is focused on establishing savings clubs, as well as labor groups in which local residents—in a practice similar to Amish barn raisings—join together to roof houses, build latrines and farm fields.
“It’s not a sophisticated intervention, but it’s very empowering,” says Wolfe. “They now have a little bit more money to spend, and they can choose how they spend it. It’s the same with the labor groups. They can think about building a latrine instead of walking to the other side of the village.”