SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan (Sept. 24, 2012) -- During Ramadan, in summer temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, the sounds of construction workers swinging pickaxes and the clangs of their shovels striking rocks drowned out the noise of passing traffic along the Kandahar-Quetta Highway near the district center here.

Approximately 550 skilled and unskilled laborers worked to build a walkway and an improved drainage system here thanks to a community development program offered by the U.S. Agency for International Development, known as USAID, the Central Asia Development Group and the local Afghan government.

"They are constructing 18,000 square meters of sidewalks, 6,000 meters of drainage ditches, and 30 culverts along both sides of the Kandahar-Quetta Highway," said Trisha Bury, a field program officer with USAID. "The finished project will provide safety to pedestrians seeking government services at their district center and engaging in commerce at the bazaar."

This infrastructure rehabilitation project, which kicked-off in June and is slated to be complete by the end of October, is a cash-for-work employment program for Spin Boldak residents.

"This project will help the population because it's going to make our city cleaner and will prevent flooding in the area," said Mohammad Hashim Agha, district governor of Spin Boldak. "It will also remind future generations that U.S. forces and others of the international community came over here to help us."

In addition to the obvious benefits of a walkway and improved drainage system, there is an underlying benefit of employing military-aged males and other at-risk populations.

"It is a good idea to employ these young men, especially at this time, because schools are off and they are employed here, earning money to support and provide for their families," Agha said. "It will prevent them from joining the insurgency and being employed, and used, by the Taliban against the Afghan government."

"Many people engage in insurgent activities merely because they cannot find other economic opportunities," Bury said, commenting on a community that suffers from an estimated 80 percent unemployment rate, according to a report by USAID. The hiring of at-risk populations is a cornerstone of the organization's community development programs.

This at-risk demographic includes: unemployed locals, families without a secure income, people with recurring debt, individuals who care for a disabled person, families who live on credit in the winter, people who beg for a living, and other parties faced with economic hardship.

"Even though the work is short term, people can take pride in bringing home a legitimate income, learning a new trade on the job, and helping build something that will benefit their community for years to come," Bury said.

Since 2009, about 170 of these cash-for-work projects were completed, providing income for thousands of Spin Boldak residents, many of them part of the at-risk populace.

"A lot of good projects were done for the benefit of the people in this area," Agha said. "I hope development projects like this will continue in the future. All aspects of life, including education and agriculture, will be better in this district thanks to these projects."