Remembering a Friend
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Just about every day we hear of bombs going off in Iraq, and perhaps we pause for a moment and think what a tragedy it is, and then we go back to our daily routine. But when someone close to you is killed by one of those bombs, the world stops spinning.
On Saturday April 16, our colleague and friend, Marla Ruzicka of Lakeport, Calif., was killed on the streets of Baghdad. We still don't know the exact details of her death, which makes it all that much harder to deal with the utter shock of losing this bright, shining light whose work focused on trying to bring some compassion into the middle of a war zone.
Marla was working for a humanitarian organization she founded called CIVIC (Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict), which documents cases of innocent civilians hurt by war. Marla and numerous other volunteers would go door-to-door interviewing families who had lost loved ones or had their property destroyed by the fighting. She would then take this information back to Washington and lobby for reparations for these families.
A case in point, taken from Marla's own journal, as published November 6, 2003:
On the 24th of October, former teacher Mohammad Kadhum Mansoor, 59, and his wife, Hamdia Radhi Kadhum, 45, were traveling with their three daughters -- Beraa, 21, Fatima, 8, and Ayat, 5 years old -- when they were tragically run over by an American tank.
A grenade was thrown at the tank, causing it to loose control and veer onto the highway, over the family's small Volkswagen. Mohammad and Hamdia were killed instantly, orphaning the three girls in the backseat. The girls survived, but with broken and fractured bodies. We are not sure of Ayat's fate; her backbone is broken.
CIVIC staff member Faiz Al Salaam monitors the girls' condition each day. Nobody in the military or the U.S. Army has visited them, nor has anyone offered to help this very poor family.
Marla first came to the Global Exchange office when she was still in high school in Lakeport. She had heard a talk by one of our staff members about Global Exchange's work building people-to-people ties around the world, and she wanted to do something to help. She was a quick study and took to the work with a passion and energy that were inspiring to us older activists. She later chose a college (Friends World College) that allowed her to travel to many countries and learn from diverse cultures. She quickly developed "big love"--love of the human race, in all its joy, frailties and exotic permutations.
Marla worked with AIDS victims in Zimbabwe, refugees in Palestine, and campesinos in Nicaragua. Following the US invasion of Afghanistan, Marla traveled to Afghanistan with a Global Exchange delegation and she was so moved by the plight of the civilian victims that she dedicated the rest of her too-short life to helping innocent victims of war. She was on a similar mission in Iraq when she met with her untimely death.
Marla was once asked by a San Francisco Chronicle reporter if she would ever consider doing work that was safer. Marla answered: "To have a job where you can make things better for people? That's a blessing. Why would I do anything else?"
We are somewhat consoled by the fact that Marla died doing what she really wanted to do: helping people less fortunate than herself. Many of us believe that character trait to be the most beautiful quality a human being can possess. And Marla had an abundance of it.
Marla seemed to have one speed: all-ahead-full. She had more courage than most people we know. She loved big challenges and she took them on with a radiant smile that could melt the coldest heart.
One of the things we can do to honor Marla Ruzicka is to carry on her heartfelt work to build a world without hunger, war and needless suffering. And every time we start to get depressed about the state of the world, we should take inspiration from Marla's boundless energy and throw ourselves back into the work of global justice with the same kind of passion that was Marla's most endearing quality.