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‘Let’s take every opportunity to feed Gaza’: Aid worker’s message to The Independent before she was killed

In what became one of her last interviews before she was killed in an Israeli strike, Zomi Frankcom spoke of her determination to find any route possible to get food to starving families in Gaza

Bel Trew
Chief International Correspondent
Tuesday 02 April 2024 21:05
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Aid worker killed in Gaza speaks to The Independent's Bel Trew weeks before airstrike

An aid worker killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza spoke to The Independent shortly before her death, revealing her determination to use “every opportunity” to get food to a starving population.

Zomi Frankcom, 43, was killed while working with the World Central Kitchen (WCK) charity on Gaza’s coastal road in Deir al Balah, central Gaza.

The Australian was among seven WCK aid workers, including three British citizens, who died after coordinating the delivery of hundreds of tonnes of food supplies via a new maritime route from Cyprus. The three Brits have been named by the BBC as John Chapman, James Henderson and James Kirby.

Israel has admitted being behind the attack, which hit WCK’s three-vehicle convoy.

A WCK vehicle hit by an Israeli missile in the attack (EPA)

Ms Frankcom, described by friends as “a shining star” and a “gift to the world”, met The Independent three weeks ago while working on humanitarian air drops in Jordan. It would be one of her last interviews.

With infectious enthusiasm, she was helping to load pallets of food and meals onto an aircraft at a Jordanian military base just outside Amman. The supplies were being readied to drop over the most devastated areas of Gaza where little to no aid is getting through.

“Behind us is a C130 [military transport aircraft] which is full of 16 pallets of WCK ready-to-eat meals that will in moments take off for the north of Gaza,” she told The Independent, with the plane preparing for take-off behind her. “This is part of the WCK’s greater efforts in Gaza, where we have served over 30 million meals so far,” she added.

Ms Frankcom on the tarmac of Jordanian military base as she coordinated aid for Gaza (Bel Trew)

One of the few ways to get aid to north Gaza was by using air drops, she said. Since launching a ferocious bombardment of Gaza, and a crippling siege in retaliation for the Hamas attack on southern Israel last October, Israel has closed all land entry points to the north. There, 300,000 people are still believed to be living in famine or famine-like conditions according to the UN, which has warned that children are dying from hunger and dehydration.

In Jordan last month, Ms Frankcom said she and the team were determined to try all routes to get as much food as possible to the most desperate.

“Because there are few ways, let us take all of them,” she said, dressed in a WCK cap, with a big smile. “Let’s take every opportunity we can to get meals into Gaza,” she said, adding with emphasis. “Let’s be taking all the ways.”

WCK, which was founded by celebrity chef Jose Andres, has worked to deliver aid to Gaza via land, air and most recently sea routes. It most recently built a makeshift pier in the centre of Gaza to help receive hundreds of tonnes of aid earmarked for the north from boats that arrived in a new maritime route coordinated with the Israelis from Cyprus.

Ms Frankcom was killed in an Israeli strike on Monday night after she and her team had offloaded the latest shipment of aid to come in from Larnaca in Cyprus earlier that evening.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the deaths were “unintended”.

Ms Frankcom was described friends as a “shining star” for the work she did feeding people (Nate Mook)

Ms Frankcom first volunteered with WCK in 2018 – when she happened to be in Guatemala on holiday as volcano Fuego erupted. She volunteered at one of WCK’s impromptu kitchens as they fed the devastated population and went on to help people who barely survived Hurricane Michael in Florida later that same year.

She joined the organisation full-time in early 2019, and led several of WCK’s responses including feeding starving people during the crisis in Venezuela in 2019, those impacted by wildfires in Australia in 2020 and then travelling to the Navajo nation in Arizona as it experienced one of the highest death rates in the world during the Covid-pandemic.

She also manned WCK’s Ukraine response in places like Romania during Europe’s largest refugee crisis since the Second World War and worked in Indonesia and the Bahamas during natural disasters and crises.

Ms Frankcom travelled the world feeding the most vulnerable (Nate Mook)

After coordinating WCK food airdrops in Jordan, she travelled to Cairo and then on into Gaza to assist with the delivery of maritime aid.

Nate Mook, who used to be the CEO of WCK and hired Ms Frankcom, said he spoke to her a few weeks ago where she talked of her determination to help feed those starving in Gaza.

“Zomi could inspire and motivate hundreds of volunteers – from delivering food on the frontlines, to building relationships with the affected community. It was incredible to see,” he told The Independent.

“Knowing Zomi was a gift, and those memories will forever remain. She was a shining star and gave so much to people in their most urgent time of need. It truly is a horrific loss to the world.”

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