Living, Working and Raising Kids In Kabul (Staff Profile)

Published on 27 July 2010

As travelling by road in Afghanistan is dangerous and often impractical, Mirwais Shinwary often has to travel around the country by helicopter. Copyright: WFP/Afghanistan

There’s nothing easy about life in Kabul, but Mirwais Shinwary says he wouldn’t live anywhere else. After fleeing to Pakistan in the 1990s, he jumped at the chance to help rebuild his country and get his hands on some cutting-edge telecom gear as the leader of WFP’s crack IT unit.

KABUL – Mirwais says he’s never regretted the decision to move his family back to Afghanistan—except once. “I was coming home from work and, just as I passed the market, there was an explosion. One minute I was walking down the road and the next I was lying on the ground and I could see many injured people around me.”

Mirwas's first thought was that the market where the blast came from was on the road his children took to go home from school. Not only that: it was exactly the time when they left school.

“I was terrified that I’d find them as I looked around for victims,” Mirwais recalled.

Outstanding service
In June 2010, Mirwais travelled to Rome to receive a staff award for outstanding service from WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran.

Fortunately, he didn’t. Both of his children were at home waiting for him when he arrived, but Mirwais said the experience stuck with him until long afterwards as one of the few times he ever questioned his decision to return.

Thick skin

Like many Afghanis, Mirwais doesn’t faze easily. In the 1990s, when he was 12, violence spread across the country. He and his family fled Kandahar, where he was born. His father was killed in a rocket attack along the way, and as the oldest of seven brothers, Mirwais crossed the border into Pakistan as the head of a large family.

“We left everything behind when we came to Peshwar. When we arrived, we had nothing at all. We didn't even have any momentos of the past. No photos even. We had to start from scratch,” he said. But that didn’t stop him from continuing his education and getting a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Peshwar.

Though his family had rebuilt their lives in Pakistan, Mirwais wasted no time in returning home, first as an IT officer with the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and then with WFP, where he became head of the IT unit. His six brothers gradually joined him in Kabul, with their families. Now they all live together in the capital.

Work, work, work

WFP provides IT services in Kabul to the whole of the UN relief effort, which makes Mirwais a very busy man. “I work 10 to 12 hours a day, 52 weeks a year,” he says. “It’s hard work, because we’re always in emergency mode. Not only that, Afghanistan has almost no electricity, which makes us reliant on generators. That’s a big challenge when you’re trying to get people hooked up to the internet."

But the biggest obstacle, Mirwais says, are the regular threats to security. “If you need to set up antennas or go and make repairs, you have to take an armed escort with you and that really slows things down.”

Mirwais says those concerns also affect his home life.  “At the weekend, there is nowhere I can feel safe taking my family for a picnic. There are days when we can’t even leave our house—we have to stay home.”

But he says his family has got used to the frequent alerts and make the best of their time at home together. Like any father, he helps his children with their homework and spends the rest of his free time pursuing studies of his own.

“I’m fascinated by advertising,” he says. “So I’ve done some distance learning about marketing and consumer behaviour. I’ve always like to study and that’s how I spend most of my time at home.”

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about the author

Justin Smith

Social Media Editor

Justin Smith worked as a journalist before joining WFP in 2010. He tweets at @justin_eugene