“Not well, she’s shell shocked and very concerned, incredibly concerned.”
That is how Kevin Rumsey describes his wife’s reaction when he informed her that he was leaving his hometown of Whitehorse and moving to Afghanistan for a year.
Rumsey accepted an offer to work in Kabul with Action Against Hunger, an international organization that delivers emergency aid to people suffering from natural disasters or man-made crises.
Rumsey, a Water Strategy Officer with the federal government, has a nervous energy to him as we chatted before he left, during a mid-morning rush at a downtown Whitehorse café.
Leaning in and out, he displayed an essence of excitement.
He then laughed when asked how this mission to Afghanistan came about.
Truth is Rumsey had been applying on various international humanitarian jobs for the past year.
The Whitehorse resident, who has a Masters Degree in Human Security and Peace Building, says humanitarian work is his calling and gives his life purpose.
In 2004, he worked in Indonesia in the Tsunami-torn city of Aceh as an environmental consultant.
Prior to that, in 2003, he travelled to India and helped run a water sanitation project.
“You and I are very blessed to be living in Canada and I guess with that comes that element of ‘What can I do?'” explained Rumsey, who is taking a two-third salary pay cut. “It’s kind of strange, it’s almost a calling and I really do have a passion for the work.”
While stationed in Kabul, Rumsey is supervising and working alongside Afghan people as a coordinator. Their focus is on water sanitation and hygiene for those citizens at risk of drought and conflict.
Rumsey says essentially the aim is to keep more people alive by stressing the importance of washing your hands and practising good hygiene.
Rumsey is all too familiar with the current bleak state for the majority of Afghanistan residents.
“There are 7.5 million people relying on food aid and the money is drying up,” stresses Rumsey. “Two thirds of the population can’t read or write and 40 per cent of pregnant women and one in five children will die from some water-borne disease. It’s pretty frickin’ grim.”
And while Rumsey understands the dire reality for the Afghani people, he also realizes the potential risk associated with the next 12 months of his life.
In the past four months alone, there have been more than 170 reported kidnappings and dozens more that have gone un-reported.
“They’ve told me that walking more than 100 metres is something I’m going to miss because essentially it’s not going to happen, humanitarians are driven everywhere,” explains Rumsey, a genuine fear in his eyes. “Like all foreigners I can’t freely walk around.”
I’m very concerned about my safety and very nervous but I like to think I’m in good hands.”
Rumsey adds while he is reluctant to leave behind his wife, daughter, step-daughter and dog, Chango, the decision to pack up and leave on less than a month’s notice was an easy one for him.
“I’m going to miss them obviously, but this is something I have to do,” said Rumsey. “For me it comes down to what gives one meaning in their lives, what gives them purpose.
“This gives me meaning … to help those less fortunate.”