Isra Jassim has been a World Food Programme (WFP) employee since 1997, first as a national team coordinator in Kerbala, and later as WFP’s focal point for the governorate.
Aid Worker For Nearly 20 Years
Like many female humanitarian aid workers, Isra Jassim followed her passion. In her case, it was for displaced Iraqi people and she made it a priority to provide support and guidance to the communities.
Humanitarian work is often challenging and exhausting, but when performed thoughtfully, very rewarding. It is not an easy job. Road closures due to explosions, curfews and millions of Shia Muslims making the pilgrimage to Kerbala city – the site of a major holy shrine – make food delivery a challenge. But the positive impact of WFP’s assistance makes it all worthwhile.
“WFP has sustained its assistance to displaced people during this turbulent time,” Isra says, describing the many families still sheltered in mosques. “We’re helping the displaced feel that they and their children have food security.”
Iraqi authorities praise WFP’s professionalism and neutrality, she says, and confirm the importance of its work. “I believe we have achieved excellent things,” says Isra. “Our work on the ground is a reflection of WFP as a whole.”
Opportunity To Make A Difference
She remembers the 30 km trek across the Iraqi desert she made with her disabled brother and sister, desperately searching for water and food after her home was bombed in the 1990s. A civil uprising in Kerbala city in 1991 – around 100 km southwest of Baghdad – had been brutally repressed by then-President Saddam Hussein, forcing people like Isra from their homes.
Now she is able to play her own part in helping others in desperate need, with escalating conflict in Iraq having displaced 2.3 million Iraqis across the country. Her role includes monitoring WFP’s food distributions in the governorate.
“I really feel for the internally displaced people,” says Isra, now WFP’s focal point for the Kerbala governorate, south of Baghdad. “As Iraqis, they are my people – and I’ve lived their story myself.
“Tragic stories are endless. One elderly woman described how she fled her home in north-central Iraq after watching terrorists slaughter her son as he defended his family and small farm.
“I meet this lady each month at the distribution site,” Isra says. “She tells me that while some citizens assist her with non-food items, WFP provides her only source of food.”
Distinguished Team Of Female Staffers
“I’m very proud of being a woman working for the United Nations, especially in a city like Kerbala.”
Isra is also a role model at a time when few Iraqi women hold positions of power. Given her experience in coordinating with Iraqi authorities and WFP partners, she was nominated by the Governor of Kerbala in 2014 to be part of the governorate’s emergency cell. The cell ensures coordination between WFP, the government and other bodies during an emergency. “I’m very proud of being a woman working for the United Nations, especially in a city like Kerbala,” she says.’
Isra isn’t the only woman making a difference at WFP Iraq. She is among a team of veteran female staffers, starting with Country Director Jane Pearce and Deputy Country Director Uma Thapa. “Our directors are the best examples to follow of how to be a successful woman – I have learnt so many things from them,” she says.