Family and friends recall dedication of World Central Kitchen aid workers killed in Gaza

An Israeli airstrike that killed seven aid workers in Gaza reverberated around the world Tuesday, as friends and relatives mourned the losses of those who were delivering food to besieged Palestinians with the charity World Central Kitchen.

Killed were three British nationals, an Australian, a Polish national, an American-Canadian dual citizen and a Palestinian. Some had traveled the world, participating in aid efforts in the aftermath of wars, earthquakes and wildfires.

Not all of the workers have been identified. Here’s a look at those who have been named.

SAIF ISSAM ABU TAHA

Saif Issam Abu Taha, 27, had worked for World Central Kitchen as a driver and translator since the beginning of the year, relatives said.

His brothers described him as a dedicated young man eager to help fellow Palestinians.

He'd also been a successful businessman who conducted trade with Ukraine, Egypt, China and others, brother Abdul Razzaq Abu Taha said. His work made him known on the Israeli side, his brother added, which helped in coordination and approval to assist the World Central Kitchen team in unloading the ship.

Saif had hoped to get married. “My mother was looking for a wife for him,” Abdul Razzaq Abu Taha said. “He was supposed to get married if the war didn’t happen.”

Saif and other workers were excited about unloading the food aid, desperately needed in Gaza. The last time Saif and his brother spoke, he said, they'd finished the job and he was heading home.

After hearing about the airstrikes, Abdul Razzaq Abu Taha said he tried to call to see whether Saif was OK.

After many attempts, he said, a stranger answered and told him, “I found this phone about 200 meters away from the car. All of the people inside are killed.”

LALZAWMI “ZOMI” FRANKCOM

Friends and family remembered Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom, 43, as a brave, selfless woman whose care for others drew her across the globe. For the last five years, she'd worked for Washington-based World Central Kitchen, taking her to the U.S., Thailand and her native Australia.

“We mourn this fine Australian who has a record of helping out her fellow citizens, whether it be internationally or whether it be through the support that she gave during the bushfires that occurred during that Black Summer,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “She is someone who clearly was concerned about her fellow humanity.”

In a statement, relatives described Frankcom as an “outstanding human being" who was "killed doing the work she loves delivering food to the people of Gaza.”

She was born in Melbourne and earned a bachelor's from the Swinburne University of Technology. For eight years, she worked for the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, the nation’s largest bank.

Frankcom's social media highlighted visits to help those in need in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Romania and Haiti.

World Central Kitchen colleague Dora Weekley, who met Frankcom responding to Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas in 2019, described Frankcom as “larger than life.”

She recalled when Frankcom was invited to walk a Hollywood red carpet, for a documentary about World Central Kitchen that was nominated for an Emmy.

“I remember getting a picture of her in a dress, saying, ‘Hold onto this forever,’" Weekley told ABC. "Because usually I’m in sweats and runners, and I’m in Pakistan or Afghanistan or, you know, she could be anywhere, and never with her hair done or makeup done.

“She worked all hours, she gave everything, and she believed in helping people who were less fortunate."

DAMIAN SOBÓL

Damian Soból, 36, was known as a cheerful, friendly and resourceful manager who quickly rose in World Central Kitchen's ranks.

Hailing from the southeastern Polish city of Przemyśl and studying hospitality there, Soból had been on aid missions in Ukraine, Morocco, Turkey and, for the past six months, Gaza.

”He was a really extraordinary guy," said Marta Wilczynska, of the Free Place Foundation, which cooperates with World Central Kitchen. "We were very proud of him.”

Wilczynska met Soból on the Polish side of the border with Ukraine, a few days after Russia’s February 2022 invasion. He spoke English well and was a translator, and as a skilled manager, he could organize work in any condition, she said.

“Always smiling, always so helpful, he loved this job. I felt I had a brother in him,” Wilczynska said.

Free Place Foundation President Mikolaj Rykowski said Soból was “the man for every task — he could overcome every difficulty.”

Posting on Facebook, Przemyśl Mayor Wojciech Bakun said of Soból’s death that there are “no words to describe how people who knew this fantastic young man feel now.”

04/02/2024 20:53 -0400

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