We sat down with Ahmad Shakeb in May 2018, just before he graduated from Tufts.

Nationality: Afghan

Why did you choose the MAHA program? I was offered a Fulbright Scholarship and was accepted into the MAHA program at the same time. It was a difficult decision for me–the Fulbright was fully funded, but the curriculum and which university I would be able to attend was unclear. I ultimately chose the MAHA (even though it was only partially funded) because Tufts is one of the best universities in the U.S., and this program offered the richest learning opportunities that I could find. I also thought it would be a place where I could establish a good network of colleagues because the people who come to Tufts (Fletcher and Friedman) are so diverse. I thought it would best meet my needs. And I’m glad it did.

What is something you learned that you expect to help you in your career? My coursework and colleagues at Tufts helped me realize that I was looking at problems only through an Afghan humanitarian lens. Here I learned to see the donor, NGO, and HQ perspectives and understand how different these perspectives can be. Sometimes in the field we think we are doing the right thing, but others may have different priorities and views. I am now better able to understand other perspectives. This will help me to more effectively make my case and also to understand the positions of others.

How has the program changed the way you think about humanitarian response? At home, I always thought we were neutral and not involved in politics in any way, because neutrality is one of the humanitarian principles.  (Humanity, impartiality, and independence are the other principles.) In fact, I refused to acknowledge politics had a role. At Tufts, I’ve realized that politics will be involved at some point in humanitarian action. I’m glad that we had professors who were frank about this. I’m certain that this experience will make me more careful and aware of politics in the field. It has given me some tools to be able to prioritize humanitarian principles while operating in a political environment.

What is something that would surprise your colleagues at home? My colleagues will be very surprised that I focused my research on humanitarian access in areas controlled by the Taliban. In Afghanistan, getting access to the Taliban-controlled areas is one of the biggest challenges we face. If we can’t get access, we can’t serve people in need. This is a very difficult and risky topic to study and write about. Although I think people will be surprised, I think they will also be glad I took this on. I hope that this work will help humanitarians in Afghanistan collectively to better serve people in need in areas controlled by the Taliban.

What are your plans after graduation? I took a one-year leave from United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) to come here. So, as originally planned, I will go back and rejoin my team. I look forward to returning to the field and working with communities and partners. In the future I believe that this degree will open new opportunities for me as I’m ready to assume new responsibilities.

What should potential MAHAs know before they enroll in the program? They should know two things. First, they should be prepared for an intense academic program. But they should also realize that, to get the full experience, they will need to make time to take advantage of all the other opportunities (speakers, lectures, programs). There is always something exciting going on at Tufts and so much to learn outside of the classroom. Second, to really maximize their experience, applicants should do their homework on the challenges that humanitarians face in the area that they are working and use this challenge as the topic for their capstone. This way their capstone can help answer an important question that humanitarians in their context are facing.

What were you doing prior to coming to Tufts? I came to Tufts with 10 years of experience in the humanitarian sector in Afghanistan. I have worked with UNOCHA, the World Food Program (WFP), the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

What was your education prior to Tufts? I have a B.A. in economics from Nangarhar University and a certificate in professional development from Pursue University.

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