At 9:20 am on 10 March, a routine office meeting was shattered by the sound of armed militants storming World Vision's office in northwest Pakistan. The gunmen opened fire and detonated a bomb, destroying the office as they left. Six World Vision staff members, including two women, were killed. Eight more were injured, three of them seriously; one so seriously that he died four days later.
The attack on World Vision staff in Pakistan serves as grim evidence that humanitarian space cannot be protected, even with the official support of local government authorities and the hospitable collaboration of local community and religious leaders. In 2008, the total number of aid workers killed was 122. The total number of victims of "violence" (i.e. killed, kidnapped or seriously injured) was 260. Despite our industry’s firm commitment to neutrality and impartiality in our operations, groups opposed to peace and prosperity in communities continue their assault.
During their rampage on World Vision’s office in Pakistan, extremists shouted, “Why are you doing this job?” before orphaning the children of staff and of the communities of dedicated parents and staff who worked there. We cannot say what drove the attackers. But we can provide an answer to their question about our own motivation.
The majority of World Vision’s staff in Pakistan are Muslim, many of whom are born and raised in the communities they work in. All of those killed in last week’s attack were Muslim. They work tirelessly in places like Oghi – a town in the Mansehra District of the North West Frontier province – to provide an alternative to the narrative of violence that extremists offer because they believe in a future of stability and peace. Aid workers, whether local or expatriate, are motivated by a straightforward interest in providing a better life for children, their families and communities.
Following the devastating earthquake of 2005, World Vision constructed 13 permanent and 22 temporary schools, enabling thousands of children to continue their education, while livelihood recovery activities helped get hundreds of families back on their feet.
More recently, after the massive displacement of people from Swat, Buner and Lower Dir Districts due to extremist and military clashes, World Vision distributed food rations to more than half a million people, aided thousands more with emergency household and hygiene items, and provided psychosocial support to hundreds of children through Child Friendly Spaces, which provide them with a place to play and heal from the trauma and loss they’ve experienced.
Extremists teach hate, anger and violence. Humanitarians teach tolerance. Their work to help lift mothers, fathers and children out of the crushing oppression of poverty nurtures respect for human life, for human dignity and for human rights.
Humanitarian aid workers help communities defend their borders in battles defined not by bullets and bombs, but by development and dialogue. Armed attacks are not the contests that will ultimately determine Pakistan’s fate. No, the relevant battles are more profound: the struggle to save children from premature death in Pakistan where 400,000 children under the age of five years die every year; the fight to ensure that every child has a chance at a decent education in a country, where almost 49 per cent of the population is illiterate; and the insistence on good governance, in a land where millions have never exercised their basic right to vote.
World Vision and other humanitarian organisations remain deeply committed to helping Pakistan’s communities win these contests. When they are won, there will be no room for extremism.
On 10 March in World Vision’s office in Oghi we lost to anger and hate. Seven dedicated World Vision staff gave their lives for a vision of a prosperous, peaceful country. But there are millions more Pakistanis who share their vision and honour to their memory by continuing the struggle for an end to poverty and injustice. World Vision stands with them, seeking to be a faithful agent of God’s mercy and compassion for all people regardless of politics, race, gender or religion.
* Rienk van Velzen is Regional Communications Director for World Vision in the Middle East, Eastern Europe & Central Asia region. World Vision is a Christian relief, development and advocacy organisation dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from World Vision.
Source: World Vision International, 17 March 2010, www.wvi.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.