The Foreign Service Journal - September 2014 - page 64

64
SEPTEMBER 2014
|
THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
AFSA NEWS
Offsetting the Impact of Kabul’s Wartime Environment
AFSA EXEMPLARY PERFORMANCE AWARDS : THE M. JUAN I TA GUESS AWARD
FOR A COMMUNITY LIAISON OFFICE COORDINATOR
The M. Juanita Guess Award
is given to a Community
Liaison Office coordinator
who has demonstrated out-
standing dedication, energy
and imagination in assisting
employees and their families
serving in missions overseas.
The job of CLO in wartime
Kabul, a mission community
with more than 5,000 mem-
bers, is a major challenge.
Mary Kay Cunningham
faced that challenge. Her
“flawless” performance as
CLO in Kabul “directly ben-
efited everyone assigned,”
according to her award
nomination. Her “inspiring
programs and events” helped
offset the impact of the
wartime environment and the
danger everyone faced on a
daily basis.”
Cunningham knew that
providing constant activi-
ties and events was the key
to success in “combating
boredom and also providing a
positive work-life balance.”
She not only established
the tradition of an elaborate
Fourth of July celebration,
but orchestrated dancing
sessions, special dinners,
performances and lectures
that were all well attended.
She also collaborated with
the Afghan business com-
munity to set up bazaars and
events that helped stimulate
the local economy.
In response to the deaths
of mission members, Cun-
ningham arranged oppor-
tunities for individuals to
grieve by holding memorial
services and made provi-
sions for people to receive
timely information, whether
they were assigned to the
embassy or in remote loca-
tions in Afghanistan.
Cunningham also knew
that, in the aftermath of trag-
edy, the CLO had to bring the
community together; and she
organized activities, such as
the 2014 Kabul Water Bottle
Boat Races, to do so.
Teams were given a month
to construct boats, using
only water bottles and duct
tape, that could hold at least
two people and complete
a lap in the swimming pool
without sinking. Almost the
entire community came out
to support the 15 teams that
entered. As Cunningham
recalls, “the teamwork, cama-
raderie and sheer fun of the
event helped lift the spirits of
the entire community.”
Also significant was her
personal involvement in
advocating for the hiring of
eligible family members. She
constantly sought opportuni-
ties to benefit EFMs as a way
to keep families intact.
“This award has meant
so much to me and the CLO
office,” said Cunningham.
“Despite the challenging
environment, we always kept
humor at the forefront, never
limited ourselves in how
creative we could be, and con-
stantly inspired and encour-
aged each other to maintain
the energy to make it all hap-
pen. It is very heartwarming
to know that our efforts made
a difference to so many.”
Cunningham and her hus-
band began their “Foreign
Service adventure,” as she
calls it, 10 years ago. They
have lived in Baku, Dar es
Salaam and Kabul. She is
currently in Texas while her
husband serves in Islam-
abad.
n
(Above) Mary Kay Cunningham with local antique vendor Mir during a CLO-
sponsored Friday bazaar. (Below) The 2014 Kabul Water Bottle Boat Races
energized the community.
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