UN World Food Programme

More than a warm smile - Remembering our colleagues in Islamabad.

Yesterday morning, chilling news came in:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan. -- An apparent suicide bomber set off an explosion inside the heavily guarded office of the United Nations' World Food Programme killing at least five people and wounding five others. (...) The agency listed the confirmed fatalities as an Iraqi information and communication technology officer, Botan Ahmed Ali al-Hayawi, and four Pakistanis: Abid Rehman, a senior finance assistant; Gulrukh Tahir, a receptionist; Farzana Barkat, an office assistant; and Mohammed Wahab, a finance assistant. (Full)

Farzana worked in the Islamabad Logistics division. Our colleague Dima Hatuqa, said it so well: "To me, Farzana was more than a warm smile."

Dima tells her story:

I arrived in Islamabad on 22 May to support the Logistics Cluster activities in response to the IDP (Internally Displaced People) crisis. It was my first time in a country which I knew very little, apart from a few stories I heard from colleagues.
"This is not Pakistan", the driver told me on our way to the office. "Pakistan is a beautiful country that has never seen this type of atmosphere, this insecurity. The Pakistani people are very friendly and peaceful. Its very sad what's happening in our country".
Farzana was one of the first people I met when I arrived in the country office. I was tired and confused. My colleague Tony led me to the logistics section in the basement where he found us a few temporary empty spots next to Farzana's desk. Introducing myself and apologising for using her stationery, Farzana smiled and welcomed me in the office. She asked me whether I had needed anything and offered to take me shopping explaining very politely that "the jeans looked great but might not work in some places".
This was my chance to know more about this beautiful young woman who carried so much more than her warm smile. She told me stories about her country, her family and her ambitions. She too was sad about the current situation and was missing the days where she had the freedom to go to the market, gym and restaurants. Having lived and worked in similar conditions, I felt I had a lot to share with Farzana who, at 22, was very happy and proud to work with WFP's Logistics team in Islamabad.
Farzana as we will remember her.

Farzana as we will remember her.

A few weeks later, the Pearl Intercontinental Hotel in Peshawar was heavily damaged by a suicide car bomb. This tragic incident shook us all, especially our ten staff who witnessed and survived the incident. I was amazed to see how Farzana and the rest of our colleagues in the country office were supportive and dedicated to continue supporting the operation despite this incident.
Two weeks went by and I was due to return to my duty station. I had very mixed feelings after a very intense month of living and working under such an unpredictable and insecure environment. I had missed my partner, my family and friends, but in Farzana, I was already missing a friend. Farzana and I exchanged gifts - she gave me her black dress and shawl and I gave her my WFP logistics t-shirt. We smiled and said goodbye, not knowing we would not meet again.
Today, like many others, my thoughts go out to the families and friends of our lost colleagues, who will always be remembered as people before being remembered as aid workers. I wish our friends and colleagues in Pakistan all the strength during this sad and difficult moment.

Something Dima wrote, stroke a chord inside of me: It is easy to think of us, as abstract "things". Figures. Statistics. Job titles "aid workers", "UN employees", "office assistant".

We are often generalized. Symbols. Symbols of the battle against human misery, symbols of hope, symbols of whatever.

Some put us on a pedestral. The ultimate "good do-er", the idealists. The "warriors of peace". The "infantry forces of poverty".

Others see us as targets. As enemies. As evil to be rooted out, by whatever means.

But in essence, we are none of the above. We are sons and daughters of our parents. We are brothers and sisters of our siblings. We are husbands and wives. We are mothers and fathers of our children. We are friends to our loved ones. We are made out of flesh and blood. We have our ambitions, we have our struggles. We are not just "aidworkers". We are "human". We are "people".

We know the risks we take. We try to live with that risk, day by day. We do get scared. We do worry about ourselves, our colleagues. And we weep when, yet again, we loose a colleague. Not because each of us knew Farzana, Abid, GulRukh, Mohammad or Botan, but because we share the same work and the same life.

When a senseless violent tragedy like yesterday's bombing hits one of our offices, when yet again one of us passes away, we see a shattered life. We see the suffering of the families. The tears of colleagues. But above all, we see a face, and hear their voice. Voices which we won't hear anymore. Laughter which won't be around anymore.

I hope you do too, and remember them not as symbols, statistics, abstract "things", but as people. People we had as colleagues and friends.

Farzana, Abid, GulRukh, Mohammad or Botan: Ma'salama. We bid you farewell. You will not be forgotten.

See the video statement of Josette Sheeran, WFP's Executive Director, on the attack of our Islamabad office.

Picture courtesy The Nation. Thanks to Dima and Philippe for their contribution to this post.