NATIONAL NEWS

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

Apr 2, 2024, 11:40 AM

Israeli airstrikes that killed seven aid workers in Gaza reverberated around the world, 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.

Here’s some information on those killed.

SAIFEDDIN ISSAM AYAD ABUTAHA

Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, 25, 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 Abutaha 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.

Saifeddin 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.”

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

After hearing about the airstrikes, Abdul Razzaq Abutaha said he tried to call to see whether Saifeddin 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 her 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, 35, 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.”

JOHN CHAPMAN, JAMES HENDERSON AND JAMES KIRBY

The three British victims were military veterans who had been in dangerous situations before. They died providing security for the World Central Kitchen aid mission.

Kirby, 47, came from the port city of Bristol in southwest England and served in Bosnia and Afghanistan with the British Army before moving into private security work. According to his LinkedIn profile, he worked as a players’ escort at the 2021 Wimbledon tennis tournament.

Kirby’s cousin Amy Roxburgh-Barry called him an “all-round gentleman” who was planning to give his mother and aunt a surprise cruise after he returned from Gaza.

“It’s just devastating that he’s fought in these wars and come home with not a scratch, and then he goes out to do something helpful, and that’s what happens,” she told Sky News.

Chapman, 57, was a Royal Marines veteran whose family said in a statement that they were devastated to lose him.

“He died trying to help people and was subject to an inhumane act,” they said. “He was an incredible father, husband, son and brother.”

Henderson, who was 33 and known as Jim, was a former Royal Marine from Cornwall in southwest England, news outlets there reported. Sky News reported that he was due to leave Gaza on Monday, the day he was killed.

JACOB FLICKINGER

Jacob Flickinger was a 33-year-old dual citizen of the United States and Canada.

He served for more than 10 years in the Canadian Armed Forces and was deployed to Afghanistan, the military said in a statement.

A GoFundMe page raising money to help his family said he had a partner and 1-year-old son at home.

“It is an extreme loss to tell you a couple of days ago I lost my son, but in a way I’m not surprised because he was so into these type of missions, this type of work,” his mother, Sylvie Labrecque, told The Associated Press. “There has been several times where I thought there was a strong possibility that his life was going to be short. He was kind of wild. He was very intense, but at the same time very smart.”

Labrecque said Jacob had an American father and she is Canadian. She separated from Jacob’s father after five years in New York and five in Miami. She wanted to raise her son in rural Quebec.

She said Jacob’s grandfather died fighting for the United States in World War II around the same age.

She said her son leaves behind a 22-year-old girlfriend who is grieving at their home in Costa Rica.

Labrecque said she believes his aid convoy was deliberately targeted by IDF. “It was on purpose,” she said.

In Acapulco, Mexico, restaurants posted on social media that Flickinger was among workers who brought relief to their neighborhoods last fall after Hurricane Otis slammed the Pacific coast.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the fact that he was killed “while delivering food to civilians in need, his death is absolutely unacceptable.”

“At a time when humanitarian aid is so urgently needed in Gaza, Israel has an obligation to ensure the safety of aid workers. The world – and his loved ones – deserves an explanation as to how this happened,” Trudeau said in a post on X.

___

Earlier versions of this story gave the name of the Palestinian man killed as Saif Issam Abu Taha and his age as 27; that has been corrected to Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, 25, based on information from World Central Kitchen and his family. Also, in earlier versions of this story, Damian Soból’s age was reported as 36. It has been corrected to 35, based on details from World Central Kitchen.

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