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Friends Remember Haiti-Based U.N. Worker
Many grieve for Alexandra Duguay via Facebook
Ronda Hauben (netizen2)     Print Article 
Published 2010-01-25 10:40 (KST)   
Reading through some of the more than 1000 comments on the Facebook page titled "Hope for Alexandra Duguay" it is clear that Alexandra was a person who touched the lives of many people. One person who wrote a tribute called her the UN's Angel in Haiti.

Alexandra, or Alex as she was known by friends and colleagues, was a spokesperson at the UN's headquarters in Haiti. Her office was in the Hotel Christopher, which served as the United Nations Headquarters Building in Port au Prince. She was in the building when the earthquake struck on Tuesday, January 12 at 4:53 pm.

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The hotel, which was the work site of over 200 people, collapsed in the earthquake. While a few people were rescued and another few bodies were recovered in the days just after the earthquake, the colleagues, friends and families of the many others who had been in the building, waited in agony for word of their family and friends.

UN officials had included her among the many they categorized as "not accounted for" for almost a week. Finally, on Tuesday, a week after the earthquake struck, her mom, Marie-Dominique Bedard let friends know that the family had just been notified that Alex's body had been found in the rubble of the collapsed headquarters building.

For many, both in Haiti and around the world, it has been a time of waiting, of hoping and then of grieving.

During the time of not knowing what had happened to Alex, friends and family set up a Facebook page titled "Hope for Alexandra Duguay". After Alex's mom's post that Alex had been killed as a result of the collapse of the UN building, the page quickly became filled with tributes in English and French honoring Alex, her life and her deeds.

I met Alex three years ago at the United Nations Headquarters in New York where she worked for several years before going to Haiti. Alex had been one of the UN staff members making sure that needed UN documents were available to journalists. Alex, who was French Canadian, spoke easily in French or English to the journalists who sought her help. She was always available to provide what assistance she could, and with a warmth and encouragement.

One particular memory that stands out for me about Alex was when, as part of a conversation, she mentioned that Samantha Power's book on the life of Sergio Vieira de Mello was to be the subject of a program at the New York Public Library several days later.(1) What is especially sad to me about this memory is that the UN headquarters in Iraq had had its structural deficiencies, which made it vulnerable to the attack that took Sergio Vieira de Mello's life.

Similarly, the UN headquarters in Haiti was not prepared to withstand an earthquake. Also, in Haiti, like the Iraq tragedy, after the destruction of the UN building, there was a lack of heavy equipment for digging through the rubble. Reports from some of the UN survivors at the UN headquarters site in Haiti complained that it seemed little was done for days after the tragedy. When journalists at UN headquarters in New York asked about this, they were told there was a lack of heavy construction machinery needed to do such digging.

Another of my special memories about Alex was that when I won an award for journalism about the UN, one of the stories was the story about Sergio Vieira de Mello. In my short public thank you for the award I had intended to thank Alex and the other UN staff who had provided the documents and support, making the life of journalists covering the UN so much easier. In the rush to make a brief statement, I hadn't gotten to thank the UN staff. I apologized to Alex when I saw her next. I remember her saying that it was ok, and that I should know that she was always there for me.

A little later, I remember learning that Alex was leaving the New York headquarters to go to a field assignment in Haiti. I realized how much I would miss her.

Alex is one example of the dedicated and wonderful people working at the UN who have been the victim of this terrible tragedy. For me, she represents the best of the United Nations, the dedicated staff from around the world, who do their work at the UN as part of their effort to help to build a better world.

In honor of Alex and the other UN staff members who have perished in Haiti, one of the questions that this tragedy raises is: Can't the UN take more seriously its obligation to create safer working conditions for its outstanding staff?

1. Ronda Hauben, "UN No Longer Seen as Impartial, Independent: What are the implications of a new book on UN diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello?" Ohmynews International, March 1, 2008.
A version of this article appears on my netizenblog.
©2010 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ronda Hauben

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