Saturday, August 16, 2008

Cowardice

My heart goes out to the friends, family and colleagues of the four International Rescue Committee (IRC) employees who were killed during an ambush attack on their convoy earlier this week in Afghanistan.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7560187.stm

In he last paragraph of the article above, the Canadian Prime Minister (nationality of several of the victims) called the attack "cowardly." That's exactly what it was. What kind of a coward do you have to be to spray a vehicle carrying 3 unarmed people with bullets? The Associated Press has a video interviewing the one driver that survived (I can't find it again, if anyone can let me know and I'll post the link), and all he kept exclaiming was "They were unarmed! They were unarmed! They were just here to help us, they weren't from here, they were unarmed!" I guess from his (an Afghan) perspective, it's one thing to kill someone, but quite another to figuratively (or maybe literally) shoot someone in the back.

There are several current and former IRC employees here in Sudan (one of whom is a good friend of mine), and because most people in our line of work move around quite frequently from year to year (my organization is the only one I've found to require 2 and 3 year contracts!), and it's hard to keep track of everyone, this news sparked a flurry of facebook, email, and chat messages saying "Where are you? Who is in Afghanistan now?" I'm sure that when the news was announced, before they reported the identity of the people, everyone's mouth went dry and got a sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach. Not to mention the poor families of the IRC employees in the Afghanistan office! Word on the street is that IRC had difficulty contacting the families, so all of them must have been watching the news and freaking out because who knows when the phone rings if it is your child/sibling/parent on the other line or someone from IRC HQ telling you that your worst fears are realized?

The video clip in the BCC article shows the coffins being brought from the authorities back to the IRC office. Can you imagine offloading your colleague's coffin into your fenced, guarded compound? Or, God forbid, one of your staff? I think that is my worst nightmare, having one of my staff killed while traveling for work. Expats are one thing, we choose to do the work we do in sometimes unstable places, and (hopefully) for the most part realize the risks involved. There are many reasons people from countries like the US, Europe and Australia do this kind of work, but let's not pretend it is purely altruistic. It isn't "just" to help people. We like living in random corners of the globe and the often difficult work we do, and while people definitely have some sort of a calling to make the world a better place, it's not purely about "service." But national staff is a different story.

I'd like to think that everyone who works for me is truly committed in helping to build their country and improve the health status of people, and I can say for the most part that is true (I have some FANTASTIC and committed people working for me) but what I've noticed here in Sudan is that in most areas NGO jobs are the only jobs that exist. There is little to no private sector other than trading, and in Juba we live in a false economy of international NGO, UN, and private sector people who are catered to by services owned and run by Kenyans and Ugandans who import their staff from Kenya and Uganda as well. This drives up prices and makes the cost of living insane - you cannot find a hotel room for less than $120 per night (and that is a prefab container. tents in town go for $150 a night), and you can't have dinner for less than $20. But I digress.

In most cases NGOs are just another employer, a way to support your family. Yes, health care and education and economic development are important to people, but those things in the end come second to finding a job and feeding your family. I have the choice of going into any profession I choose and in the US be able to find all sorts of jobs that don't involve living in a tent in an area where landmines are still being uncovered and the UN imposes a curfew. People here don't have that choice - NGOs are the only available option.

So the driver that worked with IRC in Afghanistan was probably just trying to feed his family and wouldn't say no to driving along a stretch of arguably unstable road. And for that, he lost his life.

1 comment:

nyGRINGAinCHILE said...

what a fantastic post. bravo. well written and straight to the point. i agree with you 100%. oh and i love you : ) xoxoxo