The murder of ten aid workers in Afghanistan this past week is a stark reminder that the region is fraught with risk for aid workers whose sole purpose in being there is to help, to make a difference in the lives and health of Afghans. Aid workers have long relied on the fact of their humanitarian missions to guarantee their safety but, increasingly, that does not provide the hoped for cloak of security, and in fact, the number of aid workers killed worldwide jumped from twenty nine in 1999 to a high of one hundred twenty two in 2008.
There is no aid worker anywhere who sets his or her foot upon foreign soil believing they will die in the course of helping. Aid workers tell one another that they accept the gamble and the risks, but the truth is we somehow believe that we are invincible, that the bad things happen to others who somehow take even greater risks or smaller steps toward safety.
And already that is the refrain. Today, the television commentators have said the ten workers killed were in a convoy that was too large, with vehicles that were too shiny. The outcome they’ve declared, was inevitable. But was it? Had the convoy been smaller, the vehicles older, they would likely still have been spotted and killed. It’s curious that they were killed after completing their mission, after helping hundreds in the remote villages of Nuristan. Had the Taliban tracked them, watched while they worked, all the while planning an attack but allowing them first to save the people they’d come to save? It’s a chilling thought but these are chilling times in Afghanistan when everyone is at risk, when a smile or an innocent handshake can cost someone their life.
And so, like a string of precious pearls, we should hold tight to the memories of these ten and all the others who’ve died, for they are the best of us, these men and women, who metaphorically speaking, climb the highest peaks and take the greatest risks, all in the name of providing help to strangers.
Godspeed to each of them on their journey home.