"Dr Karen explores healthcare in afghanistan"
August 10, 2010 7:43 AM   Subscribe

Dr. Karen Woo, one of the 10 medical aid workers slain in Afghanistan, kept a blog of her experiences. I've spent the last two days doing Afghan medicals - en masse I have been terrifying Afghan men with my femaleness and daring use of the stethoscope.

All 10 workers worked with the International Assistance Mission, "an international charitable, non-profit, Christian organisation, serving the people of Afghanistan, through capacity building in the sectors of Health and Economic Development."
posted by ThePinkSuperhero (45 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
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Truly heroic people, all.
posted by joe lisboa at 7:45 AM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Amazing story. May their work continue.

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posted by garnetgirl at 7:55 AM on August 10, 2010


July 12th- My last two stops of the night before bed are the website www.icanhascheezburger.com, and the weird but wonderful, sushi cooking show on youtube called Cookingwithdog. She probably would've liked it around here.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:55 AM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm looking at Dr. Woo's picture on the front page of the NYT right now.
posted by spicynuts at 7:55 AM on August 10, 2010


The NYTimes slideshow about the workers just breaks my heart.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:58 AM on August 10, 2010


Here's a Guardian news story that provides some context.
posted by Kevin Street at 8:03 AM on August 10, 2010


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She seems like she was an amazing person.
posted by Artw at 8:03 AM on August 10, 2010


"Heroes" is a word thrown around all to easily, but heroes is the only word that comes to mind. If there was a medal of honor for decency, here are 10 winners.

Also I think it is important to point out that it seems these people were the victims of robbery rather than Taliban extremists. I can imagine they would not want us to think badly of the ordinary Afghan people they sacrificed their lives to help.

just breaks my heart.

Actually, their story fills my heart with love. With people like this in the world, there really is hope.
posted by three blind mice at 8:14 AM on August 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


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posted by burnmp3s at 8:17 AM on August 10, 2010


"Also I think it is important to point out that it seems these people were the victims of robbery rather than Taliban extremists."

According to the article, the Taliban have taken "credit" for the murders, but it isn't clear if they actually carried them out. Apparently kidnapping and ransoming aid workers is more their style, so this could have been done by some other extremist group. But there's little information right now on who it might have been.
posted by Kevin Street at 8:20 AM on August 10, 2010


"I've reconciled myself to being fat and frumpy, there's no way round it so I'm embracing it and stocking up for old age. An image of me, floral prints, spare tyre and saddle bags, sporting large old lady gemstones on my gnarled fingers rises up in my mind and I play with the idea that someday I and my circle of triad granny comrades will be found playing cut throat marjong in a basement somewhere in China Town...."


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posted by Jilder at 8:24 AM on August 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


What a heartbreak.

What admirable, remarkable people. And what three blind mice said.

Also online - Brian Carderelli's photos and his videos from Afghanistan.
posted by madamjujujive at 8:33 AM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also I think it is important to point out that it seems these people were the victims of robbery rather than Taliban extremists. I can imagine they would not want us to think badly of the ordinary Afghan people they sacrificed their lives to help.

I'm confused by this. Are you saying Taliban extremists == ordinary Afghan people?
posted by kmz at 8:47 AM on August 10, 2010


This is one of those stories that I've tried to read up on but it just makes me so sad that I end up turning away every time. The stories of Mahram Ali and Ahmed Jawed, the two Afghani killed, haven't really been featured much in the Western media, for understandable reasons, but something about their stories has hit the hardest. Ali was the father of two disabled sons, one an amputee and the other a polio victim, and Jawed had three young kids. Both were the sole breadwinners of their family. The awfulness that befell the eight Westerners is beyond words and I feel deeply the suffering that their families must be experiencing, the despair and rage and hurt. But I don't have the mental conceptions necessary to understand what the families of Ali and Jawed are going through. I understand how Westerners grieve and deal with such disasters, because I am one and terrible things have happened to my loved ones. But all that on top of losing the one means of support, having your husband and father die in a society where women can't work independently to the degree they can in the West, all that plus everything I don't understand, makes their suffering far beyond what I can understand. My ignorance of Afghani society is such that I just cannot conceive of what they are going through right now. And so I return to the story and try to read about what's going on and then get so sad I have to turn away again.
posted by Kattullus at 9:04 AM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


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posted by effluvia at 9:12 AM on August 10, 2010


Reading the blog, I kept on thinking things like, "boy, it sure was a stupid thing for a western woman like her to wear nail polish to some tribal area" and then realized just how insane and stupid my interior monologue sounded. To murder a doctor willing to transport, by foot, medical equipment and supplies over a 16,000-foot mountain pass is a tragedy; to single out woman because of "fripperies" like cosmetics is a crime against all women.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:15 AM on August 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


She was a fan of this awesome YT Channel: CookingWithDog
posted by KokuRyu at 9:17 AM on August 10, 2010


Some of my colleagues (also aid workers) were killed in Pakistan a few months back.

I continue to remain amazed at the willingness of some people to go into the most difficult and dangerous places on earth with little to no regard for their own safety or life. They go in the sole and driving interest of trying to help those who, by no fault of their own, are forced to live daily lives in such places - forced to try and scratch out a life surrounded by death and destruction. A nightmare of an existence which in many cases they have known from their earliest childhood memories as their only reality.

Its first amazing to me how many people on our planet are forced to try and exist in such circumstances, but much more amazing are the stories of those who give all that they have to fight against so many dyings of so many lights. I don't know that I could ever be as brave as such ilk, but truly it is how I would want to die - to enter the next world with the blood of those I was trying to save still wet on my hands.

I respect them, and in a somewhat selfish way - and at the risk of my horrible ignorance to their ultimate sacrifice, I am jealous of the ways they chose to live their lives and the resulting manner in which they met their fate. Surely they are the ones who reached the highest peaks of true inspiration.
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:25 AM on August 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


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posted by goodglovin77 at 9:46 AM on August 10, 2010




I would hope the nexttime there's a lolzxtians post here we could take a breath, think of these ten people, and remember that not all people of faith are hypocrites, crack pots, fanatics and fascists with messiah complexes. As it says in the Times article, theses 10 were in the country to be Jesus' feet, not his mouth.
posted by spicynuts at 9:56 AM on August 10, 2010 [11 favorites]


Jeffrey Goldberg posted a note from someone who was friends with Tom Grams, another one of the aid workers killed.
. . . If I can presume to speculate in memoriam about someone I have known only since May, I think Tom would appreciate the fact that the memory of his life and work helped a few people make small changes in their lives to become more caring. Certainly he will continue to serve as beacon for those of us privileged to know and work with him, as well as for the thousands of children he helped throughout the world. May we all live a life as full and rich and significant.
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posted by lullaby at 10:20 AM on August 10, 2010


These medics are heroes and the best kind of selfless individuals.

The Taliban claims it carried out the killings because the medics were distributing Bibles and trying to win converts to Christianity. There is no reason to believe this. But it was unfortunate for a Christian organization to have been operating among religious extremists with the word "Mission" in their name. It put their staff in unnecessary risk. When the Red Cross operates in Muslim nations it uses the "Red Crescent" or "Red Crystal" symbols to emphasise that they are not a proselytizing organization. I hope other organizations will take similar measures in future.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:47 AM on August 10, 2010


It put their staff in unnecessary risk. When the Red Cross operates in Muslim nations it uses the "Red Crescent" or "Red Crystal" symbols to emphasise that they are not a proselytizing organization. I hope other organizations will take similar measures in future.

The one guy Tom Little had been in Afghanistan for 35 years. I'm pretty sure he knew what he was doing.
posted by spicynuts at 11:05 AM on August 10, 2010


This story raises a welter of emotions in me. I admire these people for the selfless and brave way they lived their lives. It seems unbearably poignant that just before their deaths they were enjoying the country and each other's company with a picnic. I feel grief for their families, their friends, and the patients they can no longer help. I wonder why the murderers felt it was right to execute people whose only real mission was to help their countrymen. I worry that their driver may have had a hand in arranging their deaths . . . he is currently under investigation. I fear for all the people, particularly women, who currently live under Taliban rule. And part of me is very angry, as I always am when innocents are killed.

So, I'll just drop my stone in memory of these lost lives.

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posted by bearwife at 11:08 AM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


thank you for this
posted by ms.jones at 11:19 AM on August 10, 2010


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posted by benzenedream at 11:21 AM on August 10, 2010


I don't know if I believe in God, but I definitely believe there are saints among us.

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posted by lord_wolf at 11:24 AM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


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posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:26 AM on August 10, 2010


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posted by BZArcher at 1:20 PM on August 10, 2010


Heartbreaking

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posted by djrock3k at 2:03 PM on August 10, 2010


Why are missionary aid workers in Afghanistan anyway? They doubtless know the consequences for "Christian Aid" in the area.

I admire people who want to help people abroad with medical care, but it seems to me that they likely knew the possible costs of Christian aid working in territory controlled by the Taliban.
posted by Sukiari at 2:28 PM on August 10, 2010


..........

thanks
posted by toodleydoodley at 2:34 PM on August 10, 2010


Why are missionary aid workers in Afghanistan anyway? They doubtless know the consequences for "Christian Aid" in the area.

I admire people who want to help people abroad with medical care, but it seems to me that they likely knew the possible costs of Christian aid working in territory controlled by the Taliban.


These weren't stupid people. They knew the risks and went anyway, which I find incredibly admirable.

And what's the alternative? Letting the fear of evil men keep medical and dental care from some of the neediest people on the planet? I can't fault them if their faith gave them the courage to face these risks.

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posted by pecknpah at 3:42 PM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


but it seems to me that they likely knew the possible costs of Christian aid working in territory controlled by the Taliban.

and?
posted by iamck at 4:45 PM on August 10, 2010


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btw, it's Ramadan. please remember that a billion and a helf of muslims are not the Taliban.
posted by liza at 5:54 PM on August 10, 2010


And what's the alternative?
posted by pecknpah at 6:42 PM on August 10



get muslim aid workers. bringing christians into play just validates the sickness that is the Taliban's "holy" war.
posted by liza at 5:56 PM on August 10, 2010


get muslim aid workers. bringing christians into play just validates the sickness that is the Taliban's "holy" war.

Really? From most of the news coverage it seems clear that they were aid workers first and foremost. While their Christian faith definitely provided the impetus for them going to Afghanistan in the first place, I find it ridiculous to suggest that because they were Christian somehow the Taliban's "holy" war is validated.
posted by pecknpah at 6:13 PM on August 10, 2010


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posted by kjs4 at 9:31 PM on August 10, 2010


Well, I'm not saying that the Taliban was justified in killing this woman, merely that when you go into a region dominated by people who have no reputation for religious tolerance, on a Christian mission, that there are risks involved.

Clearly, she had a Christian agenda here, or else she could have chosen any number of non-religious NGOs and given aid and care through them.

You don't feel sorrow for that guy who skied off K2, do you? Even though it was dangerous, he died doing what he loved. This woman is the same.
posted by Sukiari at 9:57 PM on August 10, 2010


UM Aid Worker Killed, a press release from the United Methodist Church, explains some of the context of how deeply the team understood their situation. Dan Terry -- who once lived in my hometown -- had spent the last 40 years in Afghanistan, married a local, and knew multiple local languages. The release points out the actual rarity of this attack compared with the numbers of international aid workers in Afghanistan.
posted by dhartung at 10:02 PM on August 10, 2010


I take that back about his wife. She's American too.
posted by dhartung at 10:04 PM on August 10, 2010


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posted by dealing away at 11:38 PM on August 10, 2010


This from Dr Woo's blog seems rather pertinent:
G tells me that an Afghan friend was telling him about another Afghan friend whose young son had been 'accidentally' kidnapped. The kidnappers it seems realised their mistake almost immediately and, when they did, rang the father of the kidnapped boy to tell him what had happened, "Really sorry and all that, erm it was an accident, and we'd like to return your son, but we can't just let him go as it will, erm, look a bit funny. Tell you what, we'll only charge you our basic costs for the kidnapping and we'll get him straight back to you....". Apparently, basic costs for a kidnapping out here came in at around $10,000 USD, and this was just to cover the expenses of mobilising all the people involved in the snatch. The boy's father agreed to pay - he wanted his son back - and a relatively straight forward drop was arranged in a desert area far from any town. A convoy of about 20 Landcruisers forged in to view and, just like in the film with Leonardo di Caprio as a foreign agent, the cars started circling faster and faster, raising a circular wall of dust disguising the pick up of the funds and the drop off of the accidental kidnap boy...
Additionally, the Guardian article was making a point about the significance of this kidnap / murder happening in Badakhshan, part of a cross-national Tajik-heavy ethnic region that hasn't been ruled by the Taliban ever.

I don't have a great desire to exonerate the Taliban or anything - really, give, there's little to choose between one armed group and another - but all signs seems to be pointing towards this being a botched armed robbery. That is, it's either that, or Afghanistan has become more Taliban-ized than Aug 2001. Neither comes out looking good for the civilian Afghan government or the NATO forces.

Heart-breaking, nevertheless.

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posted by the cydonian at 2:49 AM on August 11, 2010


I played at a benefit gig for Bridge Afghanistan late last year; a friend of a friend knew Karen Woo and asked us to do it. My bandmate and I weren't quite entirely convinced by what they were doing and we nearly didn't do the gig, but Karen seemed sincere enough and even took the trouble to send handwritten thank-you notes to everyone involved. That counts for a lot in my book. Though I'd only met her once, I found myself quite affected by her death. She really didn't deserve that, whoever did this.

I certainly didn't see any evidence that the charity had any missionary activity going on. They'd know the laws in Afghanistan anyway and surely would be stupid to try it. Really stupid.

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posted by peterkins at 5:30 AM on August 11, 2010


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