Sungval Tunsiri, Programme Officer, Afghanistan

Sungval is deputy head of progamming in Afghanistan, which means she works out the plans for what food should be distributed where and to whom. She is based in Kabul and says her job involves writing documents, coordinating with the various units in the country office and a 'lot of technical stuff'.

1) What is the hardest thing about your job?

I am from Thailand and English is not my mother tongue, so writing technical documents, reports, proposals and so forth, is pretty tough.

2) What did you do before joining WFP?

I trained as a nurse, and worked in the Intensive Care Unit of a hospital in Bangkok. But that wasn’t really what I wanted to do – I grew up in the Thai countryside and knew that people there needed more help than in the city. So I studied nutrition and joined an NGO, providing nutrition education to people in rural villages in Thailand. Then I worked as a nutritionist for the United Nations Border Relief Operation, which supported displaced people from Cambodia on the Cambodia-Thai border in an enormous refugee camp. I also worked as a farmer for a few years – in fact, I still run a farm back home.

3) How did you find your way into WFP?

I was working on the farm in my home village, when I heard from a friend that WFP was looking for someone with a nutrition background to work in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. I applied for the job – and here I am. That was in early 2000.

4) What’s your most moving experience with WFP?

It was the time when I was head of the sub-office in Southern Kordofan State in Sudan. The roads there are really bad, and when the rainy season comes, hundreds of thousands of people are cut off from the rest of the world – and from food supplies. We had to set up and run an operation to distribute 5,000 tons of food to 300,000 people in poor villages. It can take a truck up to two days to cover 110 km in that part of the world, and there is constant tension between the many different tribes, and we only had a small number of people to do it. I ended up having to drive a vehicle myself at one point! But we pulled together and achieved our objective – it was an amazing example of team work.  

5) What’s your most frightening experience?

I think I’ve been close to death many times… Crashing my motorcycle into a water buffalo, caught in a crush of people fleeing shelling in a refugee camp, suffering from exposure in the freezing cold North Korean winter… But the most frightening time was when I was flying from Kabul to Herat (Afghanistan) in 2005, and the windshield cracked. We lost altitude and pressure, the oxygen masks dropped, people were panicking… I really thought that was it for me. But luckily the pilot managed to land us safely in Herat.
6) What is a humanitarian?  

Humanitarians are people who sacrifice themselves to work for mankind. They feel a commitment to help other people, and give everything they can to do that.  

7) Are you one?

I’m very confident that yes, I am a humanitarian. I've wanted to help people ever since I was a little girl – originally I wanted to be a lawyer so that I could speak for people who were suffering. I’m a Buddhist and I believe it is my destiny to help other people.