The nonprofit’s founder talks about his work in Afghanistan


Trust In Education founder Budd MacKenzie and his team have worked around Kabul for 18 years, remaining steady in their mission even as Afghanistan’s volatile political landscape remains a constant battle.

MacKenzie will speak Thursday at Kalispell about the non-profit organization whose mission is to provide better education and a better quality of life for children and families in Afghanistan.

Trust In Education, or TIE, began after MacKenzie was inspired by the story of another Montanese making a change in the area. He read an article about Greg Mortenson’s work building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan and was struck by a quote that read “he fights terror with books”.

MacKenzie, who is based in the Bay Area but also has a home in Montana, decided to raise money for another school Mortenson was building in Afghanistan. He ended up raising $60,000 and touring the school after it was finished. It was then that he saw with his own eyes the living conditions of some people in Afghanistan.

“I was also aware at that time of US involvement in the region, and those familiar with the history of our involvement know that the conditions that exist in Afghanistan are largely our fault. So that turned out to be two life changing events, I returned home, I started ending my law practice and spending more and more time helping children and families in Afghanistan – and it became a full-time job,” MacKenzie said. .

TIE officially began in 2003 and for nearly 20 years the MacKenzie team has made tremendous strides to help bring education, gender equality and improved lives to those they serve near Kabul. Their 18-person team built two schools (one for girls only), built two bridges, created a girls’ soccer program, built soccer fields and a playground, planted 22,000 fruit trees, and created sponsorship opportunities. for street children and families in difficulty – among many other initiatives.

MacKenzie said they asked what the locals needed and started working to help.

“I taught them to say ‘wish list’. I would go to different villages, and I would say, ‘what do you need?’ And they were telling me and I was like, ‘put it on the wish list.’ It’s the one thing about the help that I realized that if you want to know what they need, just ask them. It is very simple. Don’t just go in there with your preconceptions of what you’re going to do, that’s why we ended up with 22,000 fruit trees, the construction of irrigation systems and wells,” MacKenzie said.

TIE has undertaken many different projects, but education remains its primary focus. MacKenzie said he believed education was “the solution to almost everything”, enabling children to break the cycle of generational poverty and educating girls to think for themselves.

One thing that worries her most, MacKenzie says, are Taliban laws that prohibit girls from going to school after sixth grade. The Taliban regained control of the country in August last year, prompting a mass exodus and the establishment of a harsh religious regime. The lives of women in Afghanistan have always been oppressive, even before the Taliban took power. But after August of last year, MacKenzie wasn’t sure if TIE’s work would continue, but in reality it’s only just beginning.

TIE has created eight “Computer Libraries,” computer labs loaded with educational programs and free information for students. In two years, they translated 1,000 Khan Academy Math videos from English to Dari and started creating USB sticks loaded with educational content. MacKenzie said they’re not just focusing on STEM, but music, art, and history as well.

The eighth library is expected to open this month, but MacKenzie said the other seven libraries serve about 720 girls a day six days a week, with an absenteeism rate of 2%. He said he was excited about the potential of their thumb drive program.

“Our libraries are starting to become the place where these girls can learn beyond sixth grade. I have two men who work for me as program directors, and one of them is putting together tapes that will take someone from first through sixth grade, then through sixth and on to high school. , then we have tapes they can watch and study for the college exam,” MacKenzie said.

Of course, MacKenzie said that given the chance, most girls would want to go to school. But their flash drive courses could lead them to college. He said that despite their efforts to continue educating the girls, fortunately they did not have a problem with Taliban officials.

TIE’s latest endeavors include their family sponsorships. It’s based on a program they created to sponsor street children – children who are forced to work on the streets to help provide an income for their families. They have 153 students enrolled in this program which, for $50 a month, gives them access to education and gets them off the streets. Now they’ve expanded that program to include families.

He said it didn’t do much for people to get a temporary boost to their income, but the sustained money from the sponsorship program was helping people potentially lift themselves out of poverty. He said he learned that it is very difficult for people there to earn a decent living, maybe earning $1-2 a day for housekeeping, for example. The $100 per month covers living expenses and the cost of food. It is particularly difficult for single women to earn an income in Afghanistan, so many of the families chosen are widows and their children.

MacKenzie will speak about families in need of sponsorship, as well as TIE initiatives, the current political climate in Afghanistan, and how U.S. involvement has led to many of the issues plaguing the country today Thursday at noon at the Kalispell Rotary Club at the Hilton Garden Inn.

To learn more about TIE, visit trustineducation.org.

Maria D. Ervin