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A few quick minutes with Ross Duncan...

...Canadian master’s student at Linköping University, who is working for the non-governmental membership organisation Swedish Committee for Afghanistan in Kabul.

Ross DuncanIt wasn’t easy to get some time with you. Normally, you’re in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, but right now you’re in Linköping for a few intense days. How did this come about?

“I’ve just started studying in a master’s programme focusing on gender studies linked to issues such as ethnicity, class, and nationality, and I’m in Linköping for a few days for an initial meeting. The programme is a distance course, we’ll be meeting here a few times a year.”

You grew up in Scotland, live in Canada, and are now working in Afghanistan – how in general did you come to the idea of studying in a master’s programme at Linköping?

“I searched around the world for a programme that would meet my demands. What they have at Linköping University is exactly what I want to study. There are also similar programmes in other places, but I thought the programme was well-presented and that the courses seemed well-structured. In addition, thanks to my job for the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, I had my eyes opened to Sweden, which perhaps also contributed to my choice.”

What’s your first impression of the programme?

“It’s good. In my undergraduate education, I was more focused on the natural sciences, like biology. But gradually I became more and more interested in societal issues and sociology, like how people interact, human rights, issues of equality and social justice. This programme takes up exactly these questions. The lectures so far have been of really high quality. There are about 30–35 students, I guess; privileged European backgrounds, but they’ve done a great deal of different things – an interesting mix of people.
In general, I’ve gotten a good impression of Linköping University. I like the efforts on environmental questions; you can see several examples of this, especially all the bicycles on campus. And I’m couch-surfing at the home of an Iranian student, so I’m getting an impression of Linköping from a little different direction.”

Now you’re going back to Afghanistan. How did you end up there?

“Previously, I had a traineeship at a mine removal project in Colombia; in 2013 I worked for a French relief organisation in Tajikistan, a country that borders Afghanistan. My work there amounted to writing reports and coming up with proposals on issues concerning agricultural development and natural resources. But I also got into society in various ways and saw numerous injustices, a lack of human rights, and the situation for women and girls such as child marriage and girls who weren’t allowed to go to school. It was hard to take in, but it also gave me the motivation to work for improvements. So when I saw the advertisement from the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, it was natural for me to apply for the job.”

And you got it, against fierce competition from other applicants around the world. Do you know why?

He laughs. “No, not really. But I’d guess it had to do with my experiences in a neighbouring country and that I worked on writing reports there, similar to the job I’m doing now. In Kabul I work on planning, meeting targets, and evaluating the projects the Committee runs, in fields such as education, health, rural development and disability issues.”

Do you find any connections between your master’s studies and your work there?

“Yes, really, there are any number of contact points – for example, in questions concerning social justice, human rights, and gender. There is a lot that is difficult and discouraging in Afghani society, but there is also hope and many people who are really passionate about change. Six thousand Afghani people work for the Committee, and many of them belong to this group. Slowly, slowly – if only at a modest level – an interest is also growing in issues of masculinity within research – issues that are also important to discuss in a country like Afghanistan.”

How long will you be there?

“Until March 2016. I wish it could be longer. And I hope that I’ll be able to find an interesting subject there for my master’s studies.”

The world is in a great deal of ferment; Afghanistan is a country with major conflicts and where relief workers are deliberately murdered. Are you afraid?

“No, I don’t go around being scared for my life. We work together with Afghani people and can’t be driven by fear. Feeling confident is important. But obviously, security is something that is always on your mind.”


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Last updated: 2017-02-13