Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Margaret Hassan

Oh dear God. She’s dead.

Margaret Hassan, the director of CARE in Iraq, who was taken hostage, has been killed. Apparently the mutilated body of a Western woman found on the streets of Fallujah a few days ago was her. There’s a video that may show her death. She cried and pleaded for her life, but they killed her anyway.

How could they do this? A woman who was in Iraq for 30 years, helping the people? An aid worker who married an Iraqi? A woman who reached out to those whom the world ignored, and helped the poor and the vulnerable? A woman who cradled the sick and dying children of Iraq in her arms, fighting to save them with medicine they desperately needed?

She was a Muslim. Born in Ireland, she converted to Islam when she married her husband, an Iraqi.

I told myself I wasn’t going to talk politics on this blog. I’m not. But I’m heartbroken for her, for her family, for all the Iraqi people who will suffer from this tremendous loss.

I’ve traveled to many Third World countries. I know people who lived and worked in dangerous places as aid workers. One woman I know saw a man shot and killed in front of her. It’s not an easy job. The suffering and misery you see each day, can wear you down. But the forlorn faces of the people, the quiet despair of the children, tugs at you. You realize the enormous need and the good you can do, and you find the strength to go on.

Yesterday was the 11th anniversary of my job working as a writer for an international aid organization. In 11 years, I’ve traveled to Haiti, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Guatemala…and many other countries. I’ve lost count of all the trips. But even when walking through streets harbored by Jamaican gunmen, where people were killed only the day before, I’ve never felt threatened. The first time I worried about being in danger was my trip to Gonaives after the floods. I can’t imagine living and working in a volatile country, seeing the suffering and faced with danger yourself, and yet you cannot leave because you are fully committed to the people.

She didn’t leave. It was her home. Her people. And now she’s dead.

May her legacy of working tirelessly for the poor not die with her.

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