In July 2006, Kim Kim Yee was in northern Afghanistan covering four provinces as part of a Provincial Reconstruction Team headed by members of the Swedish and Finnish militaries. And she was feeling like a fish out of water.
“I have to tell you it was really tough,” said Yee, who was a field program officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) at the time.
It was her experience a decade earlier at the Masasi Girls Secondary School in Tanzania – where she did her Peace Corps service as a chemistry teacher – that helped her find her footing.
“I really kind of jumped in and realized that not only was it development, but you had to go back to your Peace Corps roots and be independent and really create your job,” she said. “You have to have that gumption.”
“Peace Corps really makes you say ‘That’s enough moping – it’s time to get in there and figure it out.’”
Today Yee is still in Afghanistan for USAID, working in the southern region of the country that has become a flashpoint between the Taliban and U.S. coalition partners trying to keep the peace and rebuild the country after years of conflict.
Now a program manager in USAID’s Office of Agriculture, Yee is helping implement AVIPA, which stands for Afghanistan Vouchers for Increased Production in Agriculture and is an agriculture-based stability program designed to assist the U.S. government and Coalition Partners in their efforts in Southern Afghanistan. She has also worked on alternative livelihood programs, encouraging Afghan farmers to replace poppy production with more licit and lucrative crops.
Yee, who is 37, says her job has been “incredibly challenging and incredibly interesting. It’s really more than development. There’s a lot of interagency (coordination). There’s a lot of diplomacy involved with it.”
She is like many at USAID who came to the agency after a stint in the Peace Corps. After putting her chemistry degree to use in Tanzania, Yee returned to the United States and worked for a software company – and felt really unfulfilled.
“It’s hard to come back to a regular 9-to-5,” she said. “I just felt I can’t be a software tester all my life.”
Yee enrolled in graduate school at Indiana University at Bloomington, earning dual master’s degrees in environmental science and public affairs. She then earned her MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management, a place that has attracted a number of Peace Corps volunteers over the years.
She moved to Washington for work, which is when she ended up as a contract employee in USAID’s Office of Global Development Alliances. A temporary post in Iraq convinced Yee that she was keen to work in the field, and thus found her way to Afghanistan.
When Yee hears Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton or Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke talking about Afghanistan on the news, she knows they are talking about the work that she and her civilian and military colleagues are carrying out in the country.
“I remember seeing news about Afghanistan in the mid 80s,” Yee said. “I feel that I am a part of that again, that I am contributing to history.”
USAID is currently recruiting candidates to fill positions in Afghanistan similar to the one occupied by Kim Kim Yee. Former Peace Corps volunteers who are seeking an adventurous assignment should visit www.usaid.gov and click on “Careers” and then “Foreign Service” and then “Foreign Service Limited” to see position descriptions and details about how to apply.