The Colgate Scene
May 2007

People on the go

Scott Worden '96 [Photo by Diane Wahidy/Ghetty Images]

While flying into Afghanistan for the first time in 2005, Scott Worden '96 had a moment of doubt. "You fly in between some mountains and you make some crazy turns that you didn't know commercial airlines were capable of making," he said. "I thought, `what am I getting myself into?'"

Hired as a United Nations legal adviser for the Afghanistan parliamentary elections, Worden was headed there to help Afghans choose their first elected representatives in 30 years. What he got himself into was playing a role in forming the country's new government.

Worden, who graduated from Harvard Law School in 2000, was responsible for drafting the regulations that governed the nationwide polling. The voting process was generally considered to be free and fair, but many of the elected representatives were the same warlords who played a role in destroying the country over the past decades of civil war. Despite an extensive vetting process that sought to prevent candidates with a history of human rights abuses from running in the elections, "a lot of the questionable people stayed on the ballot, and many of them won," Worden said. "After the election, there was a feeling of disillusionment among the people of Afghanistan."

Because of this, Worden's assignment there was extended, and he joined the human rights unit with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) to analyze complaints filed by Afghans against some of the more than 6,000 candidates who had nominated themselves to be on the 2005 election ballots.

Prior to the elections, citizens were allowed to review nominees and raise objections, most of which stemmed from allegations that some were ineligible to hold office because of past crimes and atrocities. Because the Afghan courts had essentially been non-functioning in recent years, though, in the end, election overseers had little credible evidence.

Based on the information in the complaints, Worden recommended election policies and procedures that would better weed out candidates with unsavory pasts in future elections. He completed his work in late 2006.

"I would've never imagined myself coming to Afghanistan," said Worden, who was awarded an editorial assistantship at Foreign Policy magazine through the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace the year he graduated. "At Colgate, I was always interested in dealing with foreign policy issues, but I don't think I really considered working in a country like that."

His post in Afghanistan wasn't the first time that he had the opportunity to help a country in transition. After working as a lawyer in a New York firm, he was awarded a fellowship that allowed him to go to Cambodia, where he worked with NGOs to help improve the Cambodian justice system and seek greater accountability for those who had committed past crimes.

Worden currently works in Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Institute of Peace, an independent, nonpartisan, national institute established and funded by Congress to help prevent and resolve violent international conflicts, promote post-conflict stability and democratic transformations, and increase capital for peace-building worldwide.

At some point, though, Worden said he's interested in returning to Afghanistan.

"The most rewarding thing about working for the elections was that I had the opportunity to be on the ground floor in terms of forming, hopefully, a much better government," he said. "I'd like to go back and see how the country has progressed." — Vicki Wilson

Adrian Mason '10 [Photo courtesy of Adrian Mason '10]

Adrian Mason '10 never thought that a chance encounter in 2004 with a man selling shea butter products would result in anything more than a nice conversation.

Neither did the man, Olowo-n'djo Tchala.

But the meeting led to more than just a lasting friendship between the two -- it resulted in Mason's Bicycles for Education project, which distributes bikes to children in Tchala's home country of Togo.

Last summer, the group gave away about 375 bicycles that make attending school possible for children who otherwise had a very hard time getting there. "It's so funny how you can run into someone one day and it can change your whole life," said Mason recently. "We've come so far together since then."

Three years ago, the Good Samaritan and his mother, Maria, made the acquaintance of Tchala, founder and owner of the Alaffia Sustainable Skin Care company, at the Bumbershoot arts and music festival in Seattle.

The Masons began talking with Tchala about his business, which markets the fairly traded Alaffia products

from Togo. Profits are used to fight poverty and other problems in the African country. Tchala described to the Masons how few women have jobs in Togo and that illiteracy among girls is extremely common. Household duties often take priority over young girls' studies.

But in Togo, a bicycle equals an education. "The easier it is for them to get their education, the more likely it is they'll stay in school," explained Adrian, a Bainbridge Island, Wash., native. "And the longer they stay in school, the greater the chance that they'll escape from poverty. That's why the bicycles are so important -- they can affect these kids' future."

After returning home, Mason, an avid cyclist, and his mother formed the Bicycles for Education project. They stood at grocery stores asking for bikes. In the first three hours, they had 45 leads.

Word-of-mouth and local publicity helped the cause. Along with bikes, people donated storage space and bicycle repair services. Within a year, the Masons had 375 bikes -- enough to fill one large shipping container.

This past July, the Masons, Tchala, and several other volunteers made the trek to Togo to distribute the entire contents of the shipping container to kids in 14 villages, all in four days. The beneficiaries were required to sign contracts saying they took full responsibility for the gifts and wouldn't give them away or sell them.

Still, many girls and boys didn't receive bicycles because there simply weren't enough to give away. It was heartbreaking to see the faces of those children, said Adrian. But it only firmed his resolve to continue with the initiative.

These days, he's helping create informational materials to give to bike manufacturers who might take on the initiative as a corporate sponsor. And he's continuing to collect bicycles whenever he returns to Washington.

"Bikes for Education has had such a tremendous impact on both my community on Bainbridge and the communities in Togo . . . We hope, with the help of others, that this project can continue for years to come." — Caroline Jenkins

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