After 14 months heading the largest USAID office in Agency history—in Afghanistan— Bill Frej stepped down from a long career in foreign assistance this summer. “We have completely transformed the aid program and made agriculture the number one priority,” said Frej in an interview in Washington.
Although Frej admitted to many challenges in delivering large amounts of foreign assistance in a war zone, the aid veteran is replete with success stories. Frej counts the mass enrollment of girls in schools as one of USAID’s major accomplishments in Afghanistan, explaining that U.S. assistance helped increase countrywide school enrollment from 400,000 children—only boys—in 2001 to 6.5 million today, 40 percent of them girls.
Frej said he recently travelled three hours by jeep to visit a USAID program in a village in Bamiyan at 10,000 feet. He was struck to see children, boys and girls, being taught to read, write and even speak English by a trained teacher in such an isolated place. “USAID and our development partner, Aga Khan Trust, were the first development organizations to visit this village,” he said.
Frej also points to major healthcare improvements as a result of U.S. government aid activity. “I’ve been to 28 of the 34 provinces and in almost every visit, seen midwives training. [Afghanistan] had the highest mortality rate of mothers and children in childbirth in the world and it has been completely turned around,” he said. Frej called Afghanistan one of the best success stories “anywhere in the developing world” in terms of gains in mother-child health. “USAID has a great deal to be proud of.”