Living alone in a remote outpost in the middle of an active war zone, water rationing, and keeping up with hundreds of pages of daily reports is not the description of everyone's dream job. But for Mayank Bubna 2001, it describes the day-to-day life of his role as an analyst and co-team leader within the United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan.
Bubna came to Asheville School in 1999 as an international student from Mumbai, India. "As an international student, Asheville was an eye-opening, deep immersion into American culture and life," he said. "I will always cherish those memories."
After graduating from Asheville School, Bubna earned his bachelor's at Carnegie Mellon, a master's from New York University, and earned a post-grad diploma in international law in India. He worked as a freelance journalist covering conflict environments from places including Somalia, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka.
Today, he works in the analysis cell of the intelligence unit in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. Bubna describes his position: "In my job, I manage an in-country team to keep track of the state-of-play in the region, do deep investigations of mass atrocities, assess political and security developments and threats to civilian populations, profile armed groups, fighters and commanders, and monitor ongoing violent conflict."
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 and has been embroiled in a civil war since 2013. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, "three years on from the outbreak of conflict in December 2013, nearly 7.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection across the country as a result of armed conflict, inter-communal violence, economic crisis, disease outbreaks and climate shocks."
Bubna says that his role involves building strategy, planning operations and tactics, and giving advice to the groups who work together to carry out the mission.
"There is very high pressure on my team and me to be right all the time, given that human lives are at stake," he said. "Every day, we run up against competing theories and hypotheses on political and security developments around us, which forces us to tweak our assumptions. Very often, my team and I produce counterintuitive ideas that run against the grain of everything the rest of the peacekeeping mission is hearing and doing. Framing our arguments succinctly and clearly, debating and destroying logic, and having that strategic-level thinking directly impact daily peacekeeping operations is one of the most exciting things I do each week."
When Bubna is not working, he spends as much time as he can with his daughter. While his work is strenuous and pulls him away from home much of the time, Bubna says at the end of the day, he has an incredible job. "Every day, in my own small way, I get to be a voice for some of the most vulnerable groups on the planet, educate people about 'distant wars' like South Sudan, engage in international diplomacy and hold war criminals accountable."
As for his advice to current Asheville School students, Bubna offers a reminder that life rarely goes as planned: "I will twist German military strategist Helmuth Von Moltke's famous aphorism and say: no life plan survives contact with reality. Be flexible. Adapt."