Staying for humanity

By Melody Hansen

Sam Mort is one of the last Westerners - and one of the even fewer western women - left in Afghanistan. As chief of communication, advocacy and civic engagement for Unicef Afghanistan, the Scotswoman is currently based in Kabul. In an interview via video-call she openly speaks to Lëtzebuerger Journal about her unusual path to Unicef, hours of fear during the evacuation in August and the challenges of humanitarian work in a country facing more than just one crisis.

Lëtzebuerger Journal: You are one of the last Westerners in Afghanistan and – I suppose – even fewer western women left in Afghanistan?

Samantha Mort: With travel and RnR (Rest and Recuperation), we're about 15 internationals at Unicef in Kabul at the moment. There are probably about six females here with me. I don't know how many women are in the other UN agencies. But it is fair to say that the number of international personnel across different disciplines in Afghanistan has drastically fallen. All the embassies – with, I believe, the exception of the Chinese embassy – have left. There was a mass exodus of NGOs, INGOs and non-essential political UN personnel. But the humanitarian agencies have, for the most part, stayed.

So during the evacuation, did you think of leaving?

It never crossed my mind. At Unicef, Afghanistan is what we call an E-duty station, E standing for emergency – just like Iraq, Syria, Northern Nigeria or Yemen. Unicef was set up after the Second World War to help children recover from trauma and to re-establish basic services. So, one of our mantras is "Unicef is here before, during and after a crisis". When the going gets tough, when you are in an E-duty station, you just hunker down and get on with the job. Honestly my sense of mind was: "This is what I was brought here to do." When you are in Comms and media, you get no credit when you're talking about what’s happening in Afghanistan from the Highlands of Scotland. So no, it never crossed my mind to leave. But, of course, there have been some scary moments. I'm human like everybody else.

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Staying for humanity


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