UNOPS

09/05/2016

Raising up Afghanistan's newest engineers

Getting an education as a Hazara child under Taliban rule was difficult for Ameenullah Amiri, whose father was imprisoned because of his ethnicity. But Ameenullah never gave up and is now a fully qualified engineer with a full-time job.

​​He was one of the first cohorts of civil engineering students to undertake capacity-building training as part of a rural roads project funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and implemented by UNOPS.

The first of its kind in northern Afghanistan, the two-month training has a practical focus which gives graduates an edge in the workplace – a third of 139 engineering students to complete the course are now employed by government entities, NGOs and private contractors.

​​"The bachelor's curriculum doesn't include much on roads, so the UNOPS training gave me the confidence to call myself a civil engineer when I graduated," Ameenullah said.

The 24-year-old, who scored the highest mark in his class for his thesis, said most students believed they should focus purely on engineering subjects. However, Ameenullah soon came to realize that language, analysis and people-skills were equally important.

"For the first two years I concentrated on memorizing passages from text books published 20 years ago. I was the top of my class but that doesn't help you in Afghanistan. I realized there were so many other skills I needed to get a job," he said.

For instance, Ameenullah believes that learning English assisted him in his selection for a two-month contract as a surveyor for a UNOPS project​ while he was completing his dissertation.

This on-the-job experience coupled with the capacity-building training, impressed recruiters from an Australian engineering company who came to interview fresh graduates on the day Ameenullah defended his thesis.​

"Of all four of us selected for jobs, three had completed the UNOPS training and that's no coincidence," he said.

Ameenullah's next goal is to complete a Master's in Structural Engineering, after which he wants to pass on the latest knowledge in design to a new generation of Afghan civil engineers.

"Looking back, sometimes I think it was luck that got me to where I am today, but in reality it was a lot of effort, with a little luck thrown in," he said.

Established under the Rural Access Improvement Project in northern Afghanistan, the training programme focuses on roads and practical engineering approaches that are lacking from local university programmes. Subjects include road construction and maintenance, surveying, sample and material testing, and road-database management.

Eligible students are shortlisted in consultation with universities in the northern region and go through a stringent selection process before being accepted into the course.​​​