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Liberian volunteer buried in Monrovia

UNV volunteer Yah-Lydia Wonyene, who was serving as an Electoral Outreach and Training Coordinator with the UNDP/ELECT project in Afghanistan, was laid to rest on 21 November 2009. (Wonyene family)UNV volunteer Yah-Lydia Wonyene, who was serving as an Electoral Outreach and Training Coordinator with the UNDP/ELECT project in Afghanistan, was laid to rest on 21 November 2009. (Wonyene family)Guests fill the room to pay their respects to Lydia Wonyene. (UNV)Guests fill the room to pay their respects to Lydia Wonyene. (UNV)UNV Chief of Special Operations Kevin Gilroy (left) and senior UN officials attend the funeral of Lydia Wonyene. (UNV)UNV Chief of Special Operations Kevin Gilroy (left) and senior UN officials attend the funeral of Lydia Wonyene. (UNV)
23 November 2009

Monrovia, Liberia: Yah-Lydia Wonyene, who died in the attack on the Bakhtar guesthouse in Kabul during October, was laid to rest last week near her home in Liberia.

Following a funeral procession and wake the preceding day, Ms. Wonyene was buried on 21 November. The main service was attended by at least 500 people.

UNV volunteers and staff were represented at the funeral by the Chief of Special Operations, Kevin Gilroy who gave a statement on behalf of Executive Coordinator Flavia Pansieri and the UN family in Liberia.

"Lydia had already experienced great hardship," said Mr. Gilroy, "growing up in a very violent time in the history of Liberia. She helped to put this country back on its feet, first helping the UN Mission in Liberia and the National Elections Commission, and then with the EU mission in Liberia and the National Legislature of Liberia."

"It was this experience of election support that took Lydia to Timor-Leste and Sierra Leone, and eventually to Afghanistan... Her passing is a tragic loss, and we express our deepest remorse."

He then read from the book of condolences prepared by the UNV Staff Association, including the poem 'Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep' by Mary Elizabeth Frye. On behalf of UNV Mr. Gilroy later laid a wreath and presented the condolence book to Lydia's eldest son, Alvin.

Also present at the ceremony were the UNDP Country Director, Dominic Sam, and the Director of Administration of the United Nations Mission in Liberia, Stephen Liebermann. The UN provided a military escort, military band, transport, and security for all the events.

Liberians who knew Lydia Wonyene from her past employment and church communities spoke too, and were joined by a group of UNV volunteers and UN staff from Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Many of them had served with Lydia in Afghanistan, including some who had been in the guesthouse during the attack on 28 October which killed five UN personnel and three Afghan guards.

At the time of her death, Lydia Wonyene was serving as an Electoral Outreach and Training Coordinator and had been in Afghanistan for just over a year. She and others like her were supporting the work of UNDP/ELECT, the international community’s main contribution to the 2009 elections in Afghanistan.

Hugo Salamanca Kacic, a close friend of Lydia who had served with her in Afghanistan, said: “I used to call her ‘mama’, because that was from my point of view the warmest way to call her. She was always showing to us her gentle mother nature.”

"As a volunteer," he continued, "Lydia was always showing her outstanding spirit of volunteerism. She was always concerned about doing things in 'a way beyond'... due to her own experience – Liberia’s war. Her main concern besides her assignment was to encourage and increase the participation of the female population in all activities of Afghan society."

The UNV Programme Manager in Afghanistan, Stuart Moran, described Lydia Wonyene as "the perfect African mother – wise, experienced, kind, nurturing."

"She always had great stories to tell of life in Liberia – some good, some frightening, some inspiring," he said. "She was the kind of person whom you would listen to….sitting outside on a warm evening. We all felt wiser for having been in her presence.”

An electronic condolences page has been created as a mark of respect and to honour the lives of UNV volunteers Ms. Jossie Esto (Philippines) and Yah-Lydia Wonyene (Liberia) who died during an armed attack on the Bekhtar guesthouse in Kabul.

UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)