1970s

At Somerville College, Oxford, Michelle read foreign languages and met her future husband, Robin Edward Poulton, at Balliol College while they were jointly organizing a massive anti-apartheid campaign against the 1969 white South African rugby football touring team. When she graduated, she followed her future husband to Afghanistan, where they worked firstly as British volunteers, and then as junior professionals in a Unicef rural development project based in the mountains of northern Afghanistan. To the dismay of both sets of parents, they married in the British Embassy built by Lord Curzon in the nineteenth century to demonstrate to Afghans the power of the British-Indian empire.


The eleventh of September, 1972, Michelle married Robin Edward Poulton in the presence of witnesses H.E. Ali Loynab and some of RE's hippie cousins Maggie, Jeremy and Rebecca

Michelle has worked for children in more than fifty countries, but none has equalled the excitement, the beauty, the amazing scenery or the incredible people of Afghanistan. No country has been tougher in terms of the physical or human environment. Living in an Afghan village, cut off for six months of the year by mountain passes filled with snow, is a test for a person and for a marriage. The village of Shadyan is also the most beautiful of the mountain villages in Balkh Province and the place where Alexander the Great took his bride Roxanne for their honeymoon. Michelle and Roxanne have many things in common, but Michelle's husband did not expire at the age of 33.


Afghan women in burqas

Afghan women are second-class citizens. They also run their households, and it is said that the Afghan man is a guest in his own house. Reaching out to women in remote villages, women who seldom leave their valley, women in purdah, constituted for Unicef and for Michelle, a huge challenge. The work that Michelle and her colleague, Dr. Tonia Amat, carried out with Afghan women and children in the 1970s provides the template for Unicef's work in post-conflict Afghanistan in the new millennium.


Afghan woman and child in a CCF health clinic in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan, in 2003 where Michelle's experience is bearing fruit

Afghan politics intervened to put a stop to the Unicef program beside the Soviet frontier. Michelle and her husband returned to Europe where Michelle started work with the Royal Institute for International Affairs at Chatham House. She turned her Afghan work into a Ph.D. thesis working under Professor Henri Desroche at the College Cooperatif in Paris. Her thesis was called "Life Behind the Walls" and described the difficulties of women with no access to information, still using the medicine described by Aristotle under the ancient Greeks, with no education other than the repetition of Koranic verses in Medieval Arabic, and the total absence of development. After the thesis she and her husband wrote the standard work in French on Afghanistan.


The book appeared in a very prestigious series of academic studies published by PUF

This very productive period of Michelle's life included settling in Brittany, buying a house on the Breton coast, and producing two children, in addition to a thesis and a book. Edward was born on 19 July 1976. The thesis was accepted in June 1979 and Catherine Leila was born on 27 December 1979, the very day that Soviet airborne troops landed in Kabul and condemned Afghanistan to 25 years of war.


Painting of Michelle's house in the Cote d'Armor in Brittany, painted by Gordon Reed


Michelle's children in their yellow Morris Minor in Brittany, summer of 1980

Home

Latest News

Issues and Missions

Family and Personal