Humanitarian work with the United Nations in Afghanistan

Wanjiku NyoikeWanjiku Nyoike (MPP 2012) is currently based in Afghanistan as the Executive Assistant to the Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Before she joined the first cohort of Master of Public Policy students in 2012, she worked at the International Criminal Court but felt drawn to a career in the humanitarian field. Her time at the Blavatnik School of Government facilitated a change in focus.

“I appreciate the detour I took in my career because it has given me a grounding in many areas relevant to my work since the course such as economics, politics, development, business, and humanitarian affairs.”

Since leaving Oxford she has worked with the Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan on political affairs and as Development Planning Consultant with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in Ethiopia. Prior to her role in Afghanistan, she was an Executive Assistant to the UNHCR Special Advisor to the High Commissioner on South Sudan, a role that focused on South Sudan’s refugees, hosted in six neighbouring countries: Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda.  In this role she gave technical support to the Special Advisor on resource mobilisation, political and donor engagement and reviewing the South Sudan regional refugee response plan which is implemented by humanitarian workers in the refugee host countries.

While working for the Special Advisor, one of Wanjiku’s key achievements was facilitating a dialogue between refugees, the Government of South Sudan and the opposition on the 2018 revitalised peace agreement for South Sudan. She also helped the UNHRC to obtain observer status in the peace talks, the only humanitarian organisation to do so. This charted the way for refugee inclusion in the talks.

Determined to do more direct humanitarian work on the ground, Wanjiku proactively sought opportunities to go further afield, and took on a corresponding role as Executive Assistant to the UNHCR Representative in Afghanistan, which is categorised as a ‘difficult’ duty station. Her work in Afghanistan centres on internally displaced persons: refugees returning from Pakistan and Iran who want to settle in Afghanistan. “These people have a right to return home and UNHCR has a duty to support returnees.”

UNHCR in Afghanistan assists returnees by giving them a grant to settle in, information on healthcare, education, mine awareness, shelter and protection in order to set them on the path to independence. “We work with the government to make sure these returnees can support themselves in the long-term and become resilient. The aim is to empower them to work and improve their lives without relying on humanitarian aid, so that they can rebuild their lives.”

Along with the practical skills and academic foundations gained on the MPP, the approach to problem-solving it provides has been very beneficial for Wanjiku’s work. She would recommend the course for anyone wanting to develop their career in the humanitarian field.

“The key take-away from the course was how to analyse information. The MPP isn’t a humanitarian-specific degree, but the diverse curriculum meets the needs of professionals who want to work in the humanitarian field, as well as in public service and private sector. All the modules are designed to be practically applicable in a professional context. The programme delves right into how to get things done and prepares students for leadership and management roles.”

April 2019