Friend Of Slain Aid Worker Discusses Her Life, Work

U.S. and British military officials are investigating the death of British aid worker Linda Norgrove, who was being held by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Norgrove died last Friday after U.S. Special Forces stormed the compound where she was being held. The 36-year-old Scot was working in Afghanistan for the U.S.-based nonprofit group Development Alternatives Inc. She was an adventurer and a humanitarian. And according to her friend and colleague Alia Afshar-Gandhi, she was a remarkable and dedicated person who wanted to change people's lives. NPR's Melissa Block talks to Afshar-Gandhi about Norgrove's work.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Now, U.S. and British military officials are investigating the death of a British aid worker who had been kidnapped by the Taliban. Linda Norgrove died after U.S. Special Forces stormed the compound where she was being held. It's now thought that she may have been killed not by her captors but accidentally by an American grenade.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Linda Norgrove was 36 from Scotland. She worked in Afghanistan for the U.S.-based nonprofit group Development Alternatives Inc., which had a gathering today to remember her, with staffers joining in by teleconference from around the world.

Alia Afshar-Gandhi worked with Linda Norgrove at DAI and joins us to talk about her colleague and her friend. Thanks very much for talking with us. And we're so sorry for your loss.

Ms. ALIA AFSHAR-GANDHI (Team Leader, Development Alternatives Inc.): Well, thank you. Thank you. I'm happy to be here and share with everybody what Linda was like. She was a really remarkable person.

BLOCK: Why don't you start by talking about the work that Linda had been doing with your project in Afghanistan, with your projects since the beginning of this year.

Ms. AFSHAR-GANDHI: Sure. As the regional manager for the eastern region, Linda was running all of our programs which are a very diverse portfolio, everything from agriculture production programs working with rural farmers to small businesses, trying to get them started, and women's programs. And, all at the same time, trying to build our staff's capacity.

This is a program with over 200 professional Afghan staff and very few internationals. It was just Linda and one other international owner program. So she had a huge task.

BLOCK: We heard yesterday on the program from the commander of U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan. And he said that as they were searching for Linda, a lot of local people told them that they had met her and that they were, as he put it, astonished that the kidnappers would take such a good person. It sounds like she made a huge impact on a lot of people in that part of the country.

Ms. AFSHAR-GANDHI: I think she really did. She had just - I mean, the way I think of Linda is just somebody who's incredibly pure; pure heart and pure mind. She was incredibly committed and focused and passionate about what she did. I think she realized the risks but the reward of the work and seeing, you know, doing things and being able to see people's lives change trumped the risks and that made her commit and carry on every day.

And, as a funny anecdote, I always wonder how people get into our industry. And I asked Linda, well, how did you end up here from this little island? How did you turn up here in Afghanistan?

And she said, well, I was in this very small school on the island and I had to take a high school exam. And when I finished the exam - it was supposed to determine her career path - and it said, okay, you're either going to be a homemaker or a woodworker.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. AFSHAR-GANDHI: And she said: Oh, God, get me out of here. And she took off and that was it. She left the island and, you know, explored the world for, I guess, almost, you know, 20 years after that.

BLOCK: How do you think Linda's death will affect the kind of work you do in Afghanistan? Or will it?

Ms. AFSHAR-GANDHI: That's a good question. I think it's something that weighs on all of us. I think this is the kind of situation you never want to see happen, that you never think will happen to anybody really that you know.

I think the work that we're doing there is incredibly important. You know, we're achieving a lot and it's a shame that it's these kind of stories and these kind of tragedies that overshadow a lot of the really good work happening. But I think it's an individual kind of decision people have to make. And I think we'll continue and, you know, I think that's what Linda would want us to do, too.

BLOCK: Well, Alia Afshar-Gandhi, thank you very much for telling us about Linda Norgrove.

Ms. AFSHAR-GANDHI: Sure, my pleasure. Thank you.

BLOCK: That's Alia Afshar-Gandhi of the group DAI. She's the team leader for the development project in Afghanistan that Linda Norgrove was working on when she was kidnapped.

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