Budd MacKenzie has learned many things through his efforts to bring humanitarian aid and education to villages and refugee camps in the Kabul district of Afghanistan. The simplest lesson, he says, is that “givers are happier… and the more one gives, the happier one will be.” It’s a lesson he wishes he’d learned earlier in life, but one that now inspires him in a relentless quest to ease the extraordinary suffering he has seen.
In 2003, Budd was working in his third decade as a lawyer when he chanced upon an article entitled “He fights terror with books.” Intrigued by the title, Budd read the story about Greg Mortenson, a man who was building schools in Afghanistan. Budd called Mortenson and committed to raise $25,000 to finance the construction of a new school. Within six months, Budd sent $50,000 and felt his life changing in a very unexpected way. “Raising funds to build a school in Afghanistan was all I intended to do,” Budd says. “I jokingly tell people that I then made the mistake of becoming informed.”
The more Budd learned about the devastation left in the wake of years of conflict in the region and about the U.S.’s contribution to the disastrous conditions faced by innocent civilians in the nation, the more committed he felt to helping. “I simply couldn’t turn away from what I saw and lead the life I’d led before,” he says.
In 2005, Budd launched Trust in Education (TIE), a nonprofit completely independent from Mortenson’s work that harnesses the power of volunteers and donations to ease suffering and enhance the quality of life for Afghan children, women, and families. As TIE’s volunteer executive director and board president, Budd has inspired and overseen the distribution of more than 20 tons of donated clothing and enough food for 750,000 meals, and the construction of schools, learning centers, wells, bridges, and irrigation projects.
Budd has also written a one-page primer called “Why Should Anyone Care About Afghanistan?” to help explain his commitment to the nation. It begins, “The decision to help Afghanistan began with the premise that no nation should topple another, without engaging in the reconstruction that follows. Destruction without reconstruction is simply wrong.”
Some of his favorite TIE endeavors have sprung from the suggestions of his volunteers. These include playgrounds and soccer fields, built after one American and one Afghan boy convinced Budd of the critical importance to children of play; an educational scholarship program for street children, inspired by families wanting to sponsor individual children; and a solar oven project initiated by one passionate volunteer.
Now 68 years old, Budd takes no salary for his more-than-full-time job running TIE and has inspired hundreds of others to help. His supporters marvel at the good humor and generosity with which he works and at the seemingly limitless capacity he has to do good. “I’ve been to Afghanistan 17 times over the past eight years,” he says. “During my stays, I visit school children taking courses we have made possible, meet with Afghan teachers we employ, and confer with village and refugee camp leaders to determine what their needs and priorities are. I see the need and gratitude in their faces. That inspires me to continue and do more.”
On his website, Budd emphasizes the fact that there are ever-increasing numbers of people who are choosing to make time to help Afghans rebuild their lives and country through TIE. “I am just one among many who keep the train running,” he says, “and truth be told, I look forward to the day I can be in the caboose.” Until then, he is appreciating the opportunity to be surrounded by caring volunteers and Afghans who are grateful for TIE’s assistance. He says, “The life I now lead is much more enjoyable and rewarding than my life as a lawyer. This is the most rewarding work I have ever done, by far. Giving is truly its own reward.”