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Voices: My friend Zomi – the aid worker killed in Gaza – was a shining light in a dark world

Zomi Frankcom was ‘gift to the world’ who was dedicated to her work, her colleague remembers  (Nate Mook)
Zomi Frankcom was ‘gift to the world’ who was dedicated to her work, her colleague remembers (Nate Mook)

I first met Zomi Frankcom in 2018 in Guatemala. She was visiting the country when the Fuego volcano erupted, killing hundreds and displacing thousands. She heard about World Central Kitchen’s relief operation in Antigua and just showed up to help and volunteer.

I still remember she had this huge smile, big laugh and effervescent personality. Zomi had a light that filled the room whenever she walked in. She jumped in making sandwiches, chopping vegetables, and delivering meals to families. Whatever was needed.

And so from volunteering while on vacation, Zomi became one of the earliest employees at World Central Kitchen and quickly became like family. We used to have this saying that “we lead with empathy” — that really was Zomi.

The news of her death in Gaza – the killing of seven members of the World Central Kitchen team in an Israeli airstrike – is devastating for their families, friends and the world. I know several of them, although their identities have not yet been made public. It is unfathomable that they are not with us any more. They were all truly dedicated to their work, trying to do what they could in the most desperate and dangerous of situations.

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

Zomi, who has been named by the Australian prime minister, deeply cared for the people she was serving, not to just give them aid, but listened to them, was present with them and held their hands.

I remember after category 5 Hurricane Michael in Florida in October 2018, we were delivering food to communities that were badly hit. There was a woman who barely survived. She was living in a mobile home park, and had escaped death by hiding under her bed.

Zomi brought the woman her first meal in a couple of days when we were able to get there. She didn’t just hand out the food, but she sat down with her, comforted her, and listened to this woman’s story. She just enveloped the people she was helping with love. Everyone adored her.

She was a dedicated and hard worker and would do anything to help. She was the first person to jump on a plane and go to the most difficult and trying disaster in the world at a moment’s notice.

From a volcano in Guatemala to hurricanes in the US, Zomi worked around the world to be there for those in need – from Japan to the Bahamas, from Tijuana to Haiti.

Zomi distributing food for World Central Kitchen (Nate Mook)
Zomi distributing food for World Central Kitchen (Nate Mook)

In 2020, she flew out to Australia to help during the wildfires and then immediately pivoted to support the most desperate during the Covid pandemic back in the US. She went to the Navajo Nation – the reservation of Native American people in Arizona which, at the time, was suffering from one of the highest Covid death rates in the world. There, she built a 100 per cent Navajo-led team, and saved lives getting food to families who were completely cut off.

She led operations during the refugee and hunger crisis in Venezuela in 2019, supporting hospitals and schools. She braved the Covid Delta surge in India to deliver hundreds of thousands of meals to hospitals. She welcomed Ukrainian refugees leading WCK’s efforts in Romania in 2022.

Zomi could inspire and motivate hundreds of volunteers – from delivering food on the front lines, to building relationships with the affected community. It was incredible to see.

Zomi was a ‘shining star’ (Nate Mook)
Zomi was a ‘shining star’ (Nate Mook)

I last spoke to her a few weeks ago while she was in Jordan, coordinating air drops of aid over northern Gaza. She spoke about traveling to Cairo and beyond; we planned to catch up. I am not surprised that she went into Gaza to work on the unfolding famine. She was someone you could rely on to drop into any situation. She was deeply loved by all.

It is really hard to even comprehend that she is no longer with us, that the team of seven World Central Kitchen heroes were lost. They were there to do the most important work at the most difficult time.

Knowing Zomi was a gift, and those memories will forever remain. When others were facing the darkest of moments, Zomi was a shining light of comfort – and the world is a dimmer place without her.

Nate Mook is the former CEO of World Central Kitchen