Remembering Marla

By Judith Barnett
The Washington Times
Friday, April 22, 2005

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Marla Ruzicka died last Saturday in Iraq. While she wasn’t a household name, this 28-year-old single-handedly did the work of an entire army in assisting the forgotten victims of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Marla died on an airport road, on her way to visit an Iraqi child injured by a bomb. It was the type of work she did every day. She was a unique example of how one human being can make a difference.

As a high school student, Marla made four trips to Cuba to demonstrate how “youth will lead the way.” After college, she worked for Global Exchange, a human-rights organization, but soon realized her place was helping people in the field, those who have become the afterthoughts of war.

Initially, Marla decided to use “tactics of confrontation,” disrupting a speech by the secretary of state, pulling off a cover skirt, with a protest statement inside, at a speech by then-Gov. George W. Bush.

But in 2002, Marla created the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC). With no funds and only her remarkable charisma, she went to Afghanistan to survey families of victims, then serve as a liaison between them and the military.

In April 2003, as the statue of Saddam Hussein came down in Baghdad, Marla was on the ground. Enlisting more than 150 volunteers, she went to hospitals and into homes to count the number of Iraqis killed or injured by U.S. weapons. With little protection, Marla traveled throughout the country, interviewing some of the 100,000 Iraqi people who were injured or the families of those killed.

I met Marla in Washington during this period, and she seemed too good to be true. While she looked like any other young Washington woman, striving to create a meaningful life, it was immediately evident she was different. Marla had a mission, and despite hardships, she needed to raise money and return to Iraq as often as she had funds to help.

So I did what most of us in Washington D.C. do — introduced Marla to senior government people who could help, directed her to those who could be generous and provided a home. As would any mother-figure, I talked her through organizing her dreams into a sensible and safe program.

Marla would have none of it. Every day she was not in Iraq, Marla saw the faces of forgotten children and adults, who had no future.

In 2003, with the help of Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, and his remarkable aide Tim Rieser, Marla got legislation providing $2.5 million to help victims in Afghanistan. She commuted from Iraq to Washington to grow that fund to $7.5 million, then went to work pushing for an Iraq victims fund of $10 million for make cash payments to rebuild schools and homes and provide medical assistance to civilian victims.

When Marla first told me about CIVIC, I was incredulous. It continues to be a mystery why some of our $200 billion in U.S. war funds does not include millions of dollars in funds for victims. There is a much smaller aid program, but it covers mostly infrastructure and large projects, not the daily needs of those caught in the middle.

Tragically, when Marla was killed last Saturday, she is believed to have been accompanied by Faiz al Salaam, who has brilliantly led CIVIC’s daily efforts in Iraq.

After Marla is buried today in her hometown of Lakeport, Calif., it is critical her work continue. This tiny program, dwarfed by billions of tax dollars in military expenditures, must be made permanent and robust. For those of us who had the honor of knowing her, Marla’s life will always stand for what sheer determination and dedication can accomplish.

Marla Ruzicka will always be a living symbol for what one unique and loving individual can achieve.

Judith Barnett was a friend and colleague of Marla Ruzicka, and currently runs an International Trade Consulting company in Washington D.C. .


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