After a brief hiatus caused by the change in governments, Jonathan Hoffman, founder of Direct Aid International, is back building schools in Afghanistan.
Hoffman, of Northfield and Maine, founded DAI two decades ago and has worked under and with multiple governments as he’s been raising funds and building schools in rural parts of the country. To date he’s built 54 schools, partnering with local villages to do so.
He returned in June from his most recent trip and has two primary schools underway and is raising funds for one more primary school and a third trip to get it organized.
Hoffman has been featured in The Valley Reporter several times over the last two decades and was interviewed last week. During the interview he discussed, candidly, the fact that he’d come to an agreement with the current Taliban government to continue his work of building schools.
“I’ve said to the governors that we could talk all day long about everything we disagree about, but I’d rather focus on what we agree on. I’m there to build a foundation of mutual trust and understanding that will take time. I really try and stay out of politics. I’m an apolitical organization dedicated to providing schools and education to the young people of Afghanistan. We’re not going to engage on politics because my mission is schools,” he said.
He is also proud of the fact that he’s able to continue the work, despite the change in governments and what some might describe as backward progress.
In addition to his work building schools, he is partnered with an Afghan NGO on several fruit and nut nurseries at high elevations (9,000 feet), demonstrating that the trees can flourish at those elevations and ultimately distributing the fruit and nut trees to local villagers and communities to supplement their diets.
Through his work with that Afghan NGO, he was able to establish contact with the new Afghani government in January 2022, and requested permission from the Bamiyan governor to meet, which they did in May 2022, and he spent 10 days there, checking on prior projects, making introductions and connections.
When he returned this spring/early summer he revisited a village where a school had been planned the prior year, but postponed until financing was more secure.
“I met with the villagers. We laid out the basic details of how DAI does things which is that we want basically to give a gift of $9,000 for a four-room school for grades one through three. The reason for grades one through three is that these kids are too young to walk the two and a half three miles to get to school. And that makes sense if you saw the terrain, and the weather,” he explained.
“These are very humble schools, they're going to be well-built, but they they're just going to be four walls and a roof, no electricity, no running water, no outhouses, those things can come later, and those can come from the village. And I met with the village and they were slightly apprehensive at first, you know, but as they saw me with the kids, and as they got to know me, we sat down and had tea and a light lunch, they began to trust me,” he added.
It's the funding for that school that Hoffman is working to raise right now.
“I’m working to rebuild my financial support. I could spend a lot more money than I’m spending. I’d like to get back up to $15,000-$20,000 per school instead of $9,000 or $10,000,” he explained.
Part of DAI protocols require that the local village contribute a third of the cost of the school in in-kind labor or with building materials or supervision. For the current project, the villagers will be supplying the poplar beams for the roof supports.
“This is the strength of my organization. I’m offering them a gift and it’s up to them to decide how to use it, where to build the school, the design. I have no say in that. It’s the responsibility of the village to really take on a project. And when you’re adding a school to a community and you put it in their hands and give them the responsibility, you’re empowering them,” he added.
Donations to DAI can be made via Paypal on the website: http://www.directaidinternational.org/ or by check to Direct Aid International, P.O. Box 394, Northfield, Vermont 05663. People can email Hoffman at
Hoffman will be a guest on Kevin Ellis’ Vermont Commentary/Conflict of Interest talk-show on WDEV-FM96.1 on Friday, August 25, at 9:15a.m.