Remembering a Friend Killed in Iraq, Marla Ruzicka

April 18th, 2005 - by admin

From Kevin Danaher and Medea Benjamin – 2005-04-18 22:22:39

SAN FRANCISCO (April 17, 2005) — 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, 28-year-old Marla Ruzicka of Lakeport, California, was killed when a car bomb exploded 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 AlterNet:

“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 wer 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 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 develop “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, 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: help 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.

It is so difficult to think of this lively young woman as not being alive any more. 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.

© Global Exchange 2005, 2017 Mission Street, #303 – San Francisco, CA
(415) 255-7296 fax: 255-7498

TIME’s Simon Robinson remembers the activist who was killed Sunday in Baghdad
Appreciation: Marla Ruzicka, 1977-2005
Simon Robinson / TIME

(April 18, 2005) — We didn’t know what to make of Marla Ruzicka. Young, blonde, relentlessly buoyant and sometimes giggly, she stood out among the tired, cynical hacks and aid workers that usually populate war zones, so much so that battle-weary journalists nicknamed her “Bubbles” in the early days, uncertain what to make of this gregarious life force that had dropped in our midst.

In Kabul and Baghdad during the past few years, Marla was the life of the party. She would rent a house for a day, arrange food and drink and then fire off e-mails to friends and colleagues inviting us to a celebration that sometimes ended with a display of her enviable salsa-dancing skills.

But behind her party girl attitude and surfer-girl looks was a fearsome determination and astonishing compassion, qualities that were instrumental in her securing millions of dollars in aid money from the US government last year to help the victims of American bombing in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Ruzicka, 28, became a victim of the Iraqi conflict on Saturday, when a car bomb detonated beside her car on the perilous road from central Baghdad to the city’s airport. Her longtime Iraqi aide and driver Faiz Ali Salim, 43, was also killed.

Ruzicka first visited Afghanistan as a representative of the San Francisco-based human rights group Global Exchange. She began lobbying for the victims of U.S. bombing who she said deserved compensation. Fiercely anti-war, she was savvy enough to understand that she probably couldn’t stop conflicts but that she could help their victims. On one memorable occasion in Kabul, in early 2002, she organized a demonstration outside the US embassy, arriving with a father and his daughter, the only survivors of a recent US bombing raid that had left 18 family members dead.

The demonstration could have been a flop. The Marines inside the embassy gates were nervous and sent out Afghan lackeys to hassle any translators working for the gathered journalists.

Ruzicka climbed up on an old concrete flower box and, shouting above the commotion, told the family’s story and demanded compensation from Congress. She had no microphone and the crowd was being broken up even as she spoke. But through sheer force of personality she pulled it off and the story ran in the following day’s papers. “I’d rarely met someone who could combine such strident activism with canny politics-all at the age of 24, when I first met her,” says TIME’s Vivienne Walt, who got to know Ruzicka in Kabul in 2002.

Within minutes of that meeting, Ruzicka was leading Walt into mountain villages to introduce her to families who had lost their homes in U.S. bombing attacks. She was famous among journalists in Baghdad for being able to talk herself through any checkpoint. To seal her valuable contacts, she jogged with U.S. military JAGs, and knew countless ministry, police and hospital officials by first name. “With her incredible knack for making friends and her indefatigable investigative pursuits, she taught many of us who were a lot older some things about how to do our jobs,” says Walt.

Two years ago, Ruzicka founded her own human rights group, Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict She set herself the momentous task of tracking the civilian victims of collateral damage in Iraq and began lobbying Congress for compensation, convincing US Senator Patrick Leahy to put a special fund in last year’s foreign aid bill. The $17.5 million promised so far is just part of her legacy. Ruzicka’s short life, so packed with adventure and achievement, is proof that belief and resolve can achieve incredible things.

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