by Jesko Johannsen
UN Volunteer Jesko Johannsen of Germany recently spent six months as a UNV public information officer in Afghanistan.
I was working as a journalist in Germany for some years when the UNV headquarters in Bonn provided me with the opportunity to become a UN Volunteer in Afghanistan. I arrived in Kabul in September 2004 and started working as a public information officer with the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programme of UNDP. Before my arrival, I had no idea of what living in Kabul would be like, but I looked forward to working in an international surrounding and assisting the Afghan people, as well as learning from them.
The focus of my work was informing the Afghan Military Forces about DDR and encouraging them to take part in the DDR process. In doing so, we often faced challenges as the majority of soldiers were not properly informed on the process and many feared the uncertainty of handing in their weapons. When I spoke to many soldiers on an individual basis, they shared with me that they wanted peace and stability in their country. And all were aware of what they did for the liberation of Afghanistan. (Sometimes it was hard for me to believe that the person I was speaking with had fought many years, saw many friends or family members die, or took the life of a fellow citizen.)
After disarmament, the soldiers enter the reintegration program. They receive training or financial support to start a small business or agricultural farm. Some of the ex-fighters join the new army or police and some now help with de-mining the country. Meeting reintegrated soldiers was always an inspiring moment for me and provided a vision of the new Afghanistan. A man who fought for many years is now a tailor who made me a Shalwar Kameez - a traditional Afghan robe. For me, he symbolizes a part of Afghanistan's new beginning.
Apart from working with the soldiers, I worked closely with journalists, prepared press releases, updated information for the briefings of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, or UNAMA, and produced weekly and monthly newsletters. Together with other colleagues, we conducted interviews and organized trips to the DDR-sites. When the Heavy Weapons Collection in the Panjshir Valley started, journalists, who we accompanied to the site, covered this major DDR event. We made several trips with journalists to the valley, which was the stronghold of the Afghan resistance.
Beyond work, life in Kabul is much different than what most people probably expect. Although security is tight, Afghans enjoy life and are an inspired people, working hard on the reconstruction of their country. Being a UN Volunteer gave me the unique opportunity to get in contact with another country, another culture, and to see a different point of view on one of the world's most recent conflicts.
For more information on DDR in Afghanistan, please visit: www.undpanbp.org