After Half a Life of Working in UNDP, Farida has Seen a lot, Learned a lot and Helped a lot of People
24 February 2016, Kabul — Farida Alam is UNDP Afghanistan’s longest-serving member of staff. She’s been with us for 25 years – a period in which Afghanistan and UNDP have seen astonishing changes.
Born in 1966 – one year after Afghanistan changed from an absolute monarchy into a democracy – Farida was in primary school when Prime Minister Daoud took over in a bloodless coup. She was in high school when the Russians invaded, and she started Kabul University the year Najibullah became president and the Mujahideen began to step up their insurgency. When she graduated, three years later, the Russians had just pulled out and Afghanistan was beginning its decent into a civil war that would eventually see the Taliban come to power.
Against this backdrop of political uncertainty and rising violence, Farida found a job with the UN, helping the government conduct a census. But as she set to work counting other people’s families, her own was swept up in the conflict.
“My mother was praying at home when three rockets fell on our house,” remembers Farida. “We took her body to my uncle’s home to bury her next to my father.”
After this, the family fled to Pakistan – part of a mass exodus that had been going on for years, and would eventually leave more than half of the population as refugees. Farida’s family had lost everything in Kabul, but she kept working for the UN from a temporary office in Islamabad – the sole breadwinner for a family of 11.
In 2002, the UNDP and Farida moved back to Kabul, to help rebuild a devastated land. “The UNDP office only had one desktop computer,” she recalls. “Staff had to queue up in a line to check their emails and respond to queries.”
Back then, UNDP’s main priorities were agriculture, livestock, disability and rehabilitation. Fourteen years later, we continue to work on many of the same issues, but have also expanded our operations to meet new challenges. Our portfolio now covers the rule of law, governance, livelihoods, gender, environment and health. Farida herself works in the resilience unit, helping to create jobs and protect the environment.
“I see significant changes in UNDP Afghanistan compared to when I joined 25 years ago, and especially since 2002,” explained Farida. “In the past, our projects were limited in number and scope. But now we have expanded and UNDP Afghanistan has built a very strong relationship with the government, line ministries, donors and other parts of the international community.”
However, one other thing remains the same. Even though the nature of our work has changed, it’s the dedication and talent of staff like Farida that make UNDP Afghanistan a success.