Catholic Relief Services chooses two fellows from Columbia

Two people who grew up in Columbia have been named Catholic Relief Services International Development Fellows for 2018-19 and are doing relief work in Africa. Benjamin Playfair is currently in Kenya and Lauren Wright is serving in Cameroon. 

As CRS fellows, they manage and support a wide variety of relief programs, including health care, microfinance, emergency response and agriculture. 

Wright and Playfair graduated from the same high school, but they never met until they were attending orientation at CRS. 

Wright earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Florida and then joined the Peace Corps, where she worked in Rwanda from 2012 to 2015 teaching English and helping with malaria prevention. While overseas, she became interested in issues of food security and malnutrition, and pursued a master’s degree in nutrition at Winthrop University. 

“I knew I ultimately wanted to work overseas again, particularly in Africa, so I decided to apply for the CRS fellowship,” Wright said. “I really value CRS’ principles of working for the common good, promoting solidarity and subsidiarity, and ensuring human dignity.” 

In Cameroon, Wright is working on a variety of emergency and development projects, including support for refugees and internally displaced people. She also helps people get basic needs such as clean water, and has worked with programs that help families earn a living and bring health care to children at risk for HIV. 

In late January, she was able to see the first-hand results of a CRS project. 

“We heard from a woman who was able to save money and take a loan from an internal lending community that was part of a CRS project, and she was able to invest in building a new house and pay back the loan to the group,” she said. 

Playfair attended Portland State University and then received a master’s degree in international policy and development from Middlebury Institute in California, and served in Ecuador in the Peace Corps in 2015. He applied for the CRS program because he respects the work the agency does worldwide. 

“It’s unique in that it’s both a full time job … and also a learning opportunity for future positions within CRS,” he said. “You have the opportunity to develop professionally and serve the poorest communities.” 

In Kenya, Playfair helps monitor programs and come up with ways to improve results. So far he has worked with emergency drought relief, polio eradication and promoting care for orphans and other vulnerable children. 

He said work in Africa can be challenging because he is far from family and friends, but technology helps him keep in touch over the miles and the spiritual rewards of relief work make up for the distance. 

“It is really inspiring to know that the work we do at CRS is rooted in guiding principles which promote human dignity, and it’s inspiring to work directly with the least fortunate across borders, race, religion and ethnicity,” he said.