Colleagues, Friends Mourn Loss and Pay Tribute to Two IRC Staff Members
The IRC mourns the loss of two of our dedicated and courageous colleagues, Allan Mukuru and Bahati James Barongo, who were killed in a June 29 U.N. helicopter crash in Sierra Leone. Mukuru and Barongo were traveling to a meeting in eastern Kono District when the aircraft crashed into a hillside. All 24 people on board died.
Mukuru, 35, had been the IRC's country director for Sierra Leone since November 2003, overseeing all aid efforts including water and sanitation, child protection and family reunification, education and health programs. A 10-year veteran of the IRC, Mukuru was previously country director for Tanzania and had worked in Afghanistan, Rwanda, Burundi, Zaire and his homeland, Uganda.
Barongo, 37, joined his long-time friend Mukuru in Sierra Leone as an administrative advisor in April, when he returned from a six-month stint training IRC staff in Afghanistan. Barongo first joined the IRC in his native country, Tanzania , where he had previously worked for the U.N. Development Programme and Medecins Sans Frontieres - Holland.
“Allan and Bahati were highly regarded and respected members of the IRC staff, and deeply committed to their humanitarian mission and the refugees and war-affected communities they served” said IRC president George Rupp. “Our hearts go out to their families and to the loved ones of everyone who died in the crash.”
Rupp said the IRC and the Mukuru and Barongo families are moved and comforted by the condolences and tributes that have been pouring in from Allan and Bahati's friends, colleagues and admirers.
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U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers sent his personal condolences to the families. “In their dedication to saving other people's lives, staff serving in humanitarian and peace keeping operations around globe face enormous challenges that sometimes take a terrible toll,” he wrote. “Mr. Mukuru and Mr. Barongo were among such dedicated individuals who devoted their lives to serving people in distress.”
In Geneva , the UNHCR Standing Committee observed a minute of silence in tribute to Mukuru and Barongo. Delegates from various countries, UNHCR staff, U.N. agencies and NGOs all rose while Assistant High Commissioner Kamel Morjane read from a prepared statement in honor of the two aid workers. Messages of condolence were also sent from UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy and the U.S. Mission in Geneva , who lauded Mukuru's and Barongo's contribution to the rebuilding of Afghanistan.
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Allan Mukuru was widely recognized to be one of the organization's most capable and esteemed leaders. In their remembrances, friends and co-workers from around the world noted his idealism, sense of humor, optimism and love for his family as qualities they will never forget.
“Allan had caliber and fortitude as is rarely known,” said Patty Swahn, the IRC's regional director for East Africa and the Horn. “For those of us who knew him, it will be his laughter, his thirst for life, and his constant draft beer price comparisons in the countries in which we travel that we will miss the most.”
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Another letter, signed by the IRC's Renee Richardson and 18 other NGO colleagues who knew Mukuru from his days in Tanzania , recalled his kindness and friendship. “We laughed, drank, danced, walked and sang karaoke with this kind, fun man.” She went on to say, “He was an inspirational, professional and strong leader who mentored us and gained our respect through his hard work and dedication to IRC and humanitarian issues.”
Echoed World Vision's Virginia Woodward, “Allan was the type of person you hoped to bump into again in your next assignment.”
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Others who knew Mukuru from his boarding school days in India also wrote in to share their memories. Unmesh Kher, now a journalist with Time magazine in New York , reminisced about their close friendship during their teenage years, a time of basketball games, reggae music and impassioned discussions about politics and religion.
“Allan was a lot more than just a load of fun,” wrote Kher. “He was true. He was brave and loyal and steady as a rock. He told the truth, and told it straight. He was mature beyond his years, and startlingly brilliant. But I will remember him most as an affectionate and deeply honest friend – one who shaped me. These were not merely qualities of his mind, but those of his soul, and they shone out in his way of being. There wasn't a speck of meanness or bigotry in him, and his deepest loyalty was always to the neglected, the ridiculed, the bullied and the downtrodden.”
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In their remembrances, many cited Mukuru's dedication to humanitarian work as a continuing source of inspiration.
“Here was a committed, talented humanitarian, wise beyond his years,” said former IRC president and current Lincoln Center president Reynold Levy, who spent time with Mukuru on various trips to Africa . “Eager to reduce suffering, heal the sick, shelter the homeless and bring home to those in need. A natural teacher. A gifted leader.”
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Dr. Andre-Jacques Neusy, director of the Center of Global Health at New York University , first met Mukuru on a volcanic plateau in 1994 during the humanitarian crisis in Goma , Zaire . “It was evident that Allan had found his calling when he joined the IRC,” said Neusy. “The accidental death of Allan is a tragic loss not only for his friends and family but for those to whom he dedicated his life, the forgotten people, and the voiceless civilian victims of senseless and cruel wars. He was the shining example of a humanitarian. Africa has lost one of its best sons, and the humanitarian community another unsung hero.”
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Mustafa Elkanzi, the IRC's country director in Pakistan , recalled the time he and Mukuru spent a grueling day visiting refugee camps and Mukuru turned to him and said, “Every time I get to see a refugee crisis I feel proud that we are doing this work, brother.”
Elkanzi continued, “Allan and Bahati came to support our Pakistan / Afghanistan operation at a very critical time of transition when our program had just split into two independent country programs. Their disposition, encouragement and generosity in sharing their expertise will never be forgotten.”
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Bahati Barongo's administrative expertise, grace under pressure, warmth and humanity were the subjects of fond memories for many of his friends and co-workers. Irshad Alamyar, the IRC's administrative advisor in Afghanistan , remembered how Barongo's name would come up in daily conversations for months after his departure to Sierra Leone and observed how Barongo's passion for humanitarian work was a driving force in his life.
“Barongo was a believer in God and in humanity,” said Alamyar. “He felt the pain of the children and women begging on the sides of the streets. All these made him a man with the highest human and moral qualities. Barongo's memories will always remain alive in our hearts.”
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Barongo's professionalism and joyful spirit were also noted. “Barongo coupled a great sense of humor with a tireless commitment to work,” said Novib – Oxfam Netherlands ' Peter Struijf. “Barongo was a man I loved to work with, because I could be sure the job would be done, done well, and we'd have a good time doing it. He was bright, always cheerful and willing to help.”
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“I cannot believe that Barongo, such a lively and happy man, is gone,” wrote IRC colleague Des McCall. “We shared a love of football, and he took the ball around me many times in our games in Kabul . He encouraged and inspired people, just by being himself.”
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“Bahati took a great deal of pride in his work and always managed to find a way to make us smile as we navigated the dramas of administration,” said Patty Swahn. “In his e-mails, he noted his happiness at working with Allan again, and said his only sadness was his distance from his family.”
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Like Mukuru, Barongo was a man who doted on his wife and children. His work in Sierra Leone necessitated a temporary separation from his family who remained in Tanzania, but his devotion and love for them never wavered. Sam Sherman, IRC global security advisor, remembered his first meeting with Barongo in Kabul.
“I looked at the wall behind his desk with photos of his family prominently showing,” said Sherman. “I asked him about his family and we both looked at his daughter's photos. I told him I had a daughter too, and I missed her when I was not home. I looked closely for a minute at a picture of a beautiful young girl, about 5 years old, and said ‘Bahati! This little girl is beautiful!' I think this pleased him very much, because I saw him smile even wider. Bahati said, ‘Yes, she is! She is my daughter!' We both laughed.”
Barongo leaves behind his wife, Doreen, and four children: Jamal, 11; twins Jackson and Peter, 9; and Helena, 5.
Mukuru leaves behind his wife, Wivine, and three children: Sarah, 13; Michael, 8; and Andrew, 6.