In 1992 Bob and Cathy Hedlund came to Central Asia with a vision for holistic development. Trained as a mining engineer at the Colorado School of Mines, with more than 17 years of mining experience, Bob was first drawn to the Aral Sea basin. There he witnessed first-hand the environmental devastation caused by the diversion of the two main rivers of the Aral Sea into a vast network of irrigation canals. Staggering under the weight of hyper-saline sea water, ground-water contamination, and shoreline desertification, by the 1990's the Aral Sea had become one of the world's worst man made ecological disasters of the 20th century. Nevertheless, in Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan's poorest province, where others saw only catastrophe, Bob saw opportunity. Where conventional wisdom foretold doom, Bob spoke hope.
In 1994, Bob founded Joint Development Associates International (JDA), a US nonprofit 501(c)3 with the ultimate goal of bringing transformation to Central Asia. After drilling over a thousand clean water wells, restoring desalination plants, and establishing a stable micro finance program in the hard-hit former fishing region of Muynak, Karakalpakstan, Hedlund's singular vision of hope diversified JDA's development projects from the villages of the Aral Sea basin into the steppes of Uzbekistan, from the fertile Ferghana Valley to the mountainous rural poor of south-central Uzbekistan, from the ancient city of Samarqand to the provinces bordering Afghanistan.
In 2001 the Hedlunds also began working in Afghanistan. By that time, the
Northern Alliance had essentially driven the Taliban from Northern Afghanistan,
so although the area was devastated, Bob never felt in danger there and saw
ways to bring hope.
The transformation of lives spread across Northern Afghanistan. JDA works in five Afghan provinces with more than 60,000 farmers teaching improved farming methods and helping establish more drought tolerant crops, including mung beans, canola and safflower, and new varieties of rice and wheat and integrating mechanization through the use of two-wheeled tractors.
Bob established headquarters in Mazar-e Sharif and began to work on other pertinent problems through programs like the Water Access, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program and the Birth Life Saving Skills (BLiSS) program. The programs teach thousands of women and children hygiene and birthing-aid skills, often through pictures and interactive learning. Since the start of the program, more than 12,000 women and 2,600 men have benefited from hygiene & sanitation education, 2,000 women from BliSS education and 69,000 people from clean water through wells. JDA also works with local universities to establish hands-on agriculture programs.
Since 2008, Bob has continued to oversee projects in Afghanistan from his Grand Junction office. Photographs of his Afghan and Uzbek friends and JDA teams in Afghanistan decorate the walls, and Afghan rugs lie on the floor. Bob travels to Afghanistan at least twice a year, spending a total of two to six months there.
JDA’s 90 Afghan staff members continue to create and build relationships village by village slowly expanding, and daily bringing hope and change. The ultimate goal is to reach more and more people.