By Amy Hood
Embassy Kabul was already working within the confines of a decades-long conflict, political turmoil, and terrorist threats when the coronavirus pandemic struck in March. Due to the outbreak, the compound was locked down to reduce the risk of transmission, and when the deputy chief of mission stated that Kabul needed to become a “do-it-yourself” post, Embassy Kabul’s volunteer force was born.
With reduced U.S. staff at post due to authorized departure, their dedicated local staff stepped up. A cadre moved onto the compound full-time to keep essential systems running, including: fuel, food, electricity, and water. In a family-centric culture like Afghanistan’s, working away from home was not an easy decision. One of Kabul’s Afghan colleagues even missed the birth of his first child—a son—in order to support the Mission.
Like their Afghan colleagues, American and third-country national staff answered the call. One-hundred and five members of the Mission, direct hires, and contractors alike, volunteered to serve coffee, clean offices and public spaces, mow the 55-acre compound, water the gardens, and advance facilities projects during their off-time. This included building a new disintegrator and a community garden. In order to support teleworking—be it from the city of Kabul, the airport, or alternate work locations back in Washington—IRM staff, especially local nationals temporarily assigned to Kabul from other embassies, engineered creative solutions ensuring to keep everyone connected. When a COVID-19 outbreak on the compound forced 40 catering workers into isolation, closing Embassy Kabul’s largest dining facility, the team again demonstrated its commitment to the community by rolling up their sleeves, donning hair nets and gloves, and volunteering to serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner to their colleagues.
Chargé d’Affaires Ambassador Ross Wilson regularly applauds staff for their sacrifices and community service, but he was especially grateful to those that stepped up during this unprecedented time. While everyone knows that a job at Embassy Kabul includes risks and challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic presented new opportunities for the Mission team to demonstrate service.
Amy Hood is a political officer at Embassy Kabul.