Projects for Peace: The Vision of Kathryn W. Davis

"My challenge to you is to bring about a mind-set of preparing for peace, instead of preparing for war."


As a U.S. Army sergeant, Tony Macie served a 15-month tour in Iraq in 2006 and 2007. After witnessing death and destruction on the front lines, his return home to Vernon, Vermont, was difficult. “I had PTSD and a really hard time coping with the transition,” said Macie.

As part of his PTSD therapy, Tony wanted to go abroad and experience the world in peace. While traveling in Cambodia, he found what he had been desperately missing—a new mission. In a country still recovering from a genocide war that left almost 2 million people dead from execution, starvation, and disease, Tony realized the skills he had developed in the military—basically, the ability to create change amid chaos—could be used exclusively for good in Cambodia.

“Veterans have an underutilized skill set for development work,” says Tony. “They are typically well versed in challenging environments and precarious interactions, and they are trained in diplomacy, which is crucial to finding unique solutions to longstanding problems.”

Soon after his trip to Cambodia, Tony returned to the U.S. and, with the help of fellow veterans, established Expert-Exchange. The organization enables veterans to become part of a team again, using the management, leadership, and communication skills learned in the military to support disadvantaged people and empower impoverished communities. Expert-Exchange deploys skilled veterans and civilians on 30-day programs. Projects sponsored by Expert-Exchange include providing supplies, clothing, and toys to schoolchildren; digging wells and providing medical supplies for small communities; purchasing bicycles for small-scale entrepreneurs; and teaching people how to deal with medical emergencies. Donations come from people and organizations around the world.

Since he began working in Cambodia in 2014, Tony has witnessed China’s growing influence in the country. Between 2011 and 2015, Chinese firms provided almost US$5 billion worth of loans and investments to the country. It’s clear that China will continue to play a role in Cambodia’s future, and Tony knows that proficiency in Chinese is critical for his future work.

“The Chinese are active players throughout Southeast Asia, and it’s essential that the advocates for the local people be proficient in Mandarin,” says Tony. His summer as a Kathryn Davis Fellow for Peace has given him a solid foundation on which to build, and it’s allowed him to return home to Vermont for a short time.

He admits that life in Cambodia can be challenging and it’s difficult to be away from family for long periods of time, but he has no intention of leaving. “Ultimately, Cambodians have to forge their own future, but I’m committed to them for the long term,” he says.