It had long been Nashir Karmali’s desire to offer voluntary service in a developing country. In 2007, he received a call that changed his career and life: He was asked to serve on a TKN assignment with Focus Humanitarian Assistance (FOCUS) to conduct a strategic review of their operations in Afghanistan, aimed at expanding its mandate from refugee repatriation to include emergency management, disaster preparedness, and response.
Although Nashir had managed strategic projects for TELUS, a Canadian telecommunications company, and had served with Jamati institutions such as the Ismaili Council for Edmonton and the Conciliation and Arbitration Board, as well as other external organisations, this assignment was somewhat different. “I had to first learn about disaster management and working in a conflict zone,” he says.
Shortly after returning home to Edmonton from the initial three-month assignment in Afghanistan, FOCUS called again. This time Nashir was entrusted with a broader set of responsibilities, in a TKN volunteer role, as Executive Officer of FOCUS Afghanistan. TELUS offered him a year-off work to complete the assignment, after which Nashir accepted early retirement from TELUS. He continued for an additional 2 years as FOCUS Executive Officer in Afghanistan, and subsequently for 3 further years in a similar role in Tajikistan. Altogether, he served 2 years as a TKN Volunteer and 4 years in a full-time staff role in Central Asia.
The work involved the retraining and recruitment of staff with new technical skills in disaster risk reduction and mitigation. Hundreds of volunteers and government staff were trained as Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs), or as internationally trained Search and Rescue Teams (SARTs). In addition, the mandate included strengthening FOCUS' team capacity through best practice in finance and human resource systems, project management, and grants management.
“In Afghanistan and Tajikistan, I was also tasked with finding a local successor for my position, so I was basically working myself out of the job,” Nashir says jokingly.
Nashir subsequently served on another three-year TKN assignment, from 2015 to 2018, as a Consultant in Emergency Preparedness with FOCUS and the Ismaili Council for Syria. His role entailed supporting Emergency Management initiatives, which included identifying and training community based Emergency Response Teams. While this assignment leveraged Nashir’s previous FOCUS experience, he was pleasantly surprised when asked to oversee the renovation of a 100-year old school for use as an Emergency Operations and Reception Centre.
Life in the field with a disaster management agency such as FOCUS can be very challenging and demanding. This was particularly the case during, and in the aftermath of a disaster or emergency. This required mobilising teams and resources to respond rapidly, and coordinating with government emergency agencies, the United Nations, and donor countries.
As an example, during one week in 2012, fifty-two avalanches hit Khorog in Tajikistan and surrounding areas, impacting buildings and major roads, thus blocking food and medical supplies. The timely evacuations by the Government and FOCUS CERTs limited the impact to a loss of just one life.
“Despite the prevailing security conditions, we were able to accomplish our work thanks to the well-designed and established security protocols and arrangements”, Nashir says.
Working with FOCUS and serving the Jamats and people of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Syria were fulfilling experiences for Nashir, despite the challenges. Each role provided new learning opportunities, both professionally and culturally. He was also able to travel to new places including Thailand, Nepal, Turkey, Russia, and Kazakhstan for work. Another significant contribution by Nashir was his effort to mentor and help develop the colleagues he worked with. He recently heard from Amruddin, a former accounting assistant in Kabul, who said, “I have now been promoted to Chief Financial Officer for the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat… the wise advice from you changed my life as well as my family’s life, thank you so much!”
“I cannot say enough about the positive impact that Nashir has made through his selfless service and exemplary support for FOCUS’ work in helping communities reduce their vulnerability and increase their resilience, in the face of natural and man-made disasters” said Shakeel Hirji, Global Coordinator for FOCUS.