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Chinese woman helps feed refugees in Darfur, Ethiopia
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Liu Mei, a 44-year-old Chinese woman, worked in Darfur for more than two years as the director of the food aid program of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP).

From February 2005 to October 2007, she was responsible for distributing food to 100,000 refugees in Kars, south of Darfur, Sudan. With 10 local employees, she was the only foreigner and the only woman in any of the 11 WFP offices in Darfur.

"When I first learned that I would be sent to Darfur, I was scared. I knew the experience would change my life," Liu said. "But I was fully aware of the urgent need at the forefront for food aid in Africa."

"The unrest in Darfur hindered food distribution, especially transportation. So the issue of security was always my priority," said Liu.

Liu once witnessed a gun fight only 100 meters from her office. "I did my best to keep calm and ordered the staff to drive our food trucks to a safer place," she said. "I could hear my voice shaking, but I succeeded in transferring the food without getting any of us hurt."

Another challenge was how to distribute food to people in need. "It was impossible for us to identify everyone who came for food. When hundreds of refugees came to us, we could only count the number."

There were refugees who received food aid several times at different refugee camps with the same food cards. To avoid this, Liu and her colleagues decided to inform refugees of food distribution times without prior notice.

In addition, all the new food cards were distributed at the same time in different camps. This practice kept people from collecting extra food and re-selling it. Liu faced some criticism and a boycott by those who held the old food cards. But she held firm.

Not all the refugees liked Liu when she began her work in Darfur. "I could feel that their attitudes changed after our visits with food," she said, "because what we did was humanitarian food aid regardless of race, ethnic group or political position. Our work is transparent and everyone who needs help will be treated equally."

One day, when Liu heard that there was a family whose children were starving, she arranged to have food sent to them right away. "The family was very grateful," Liu said.

Liu got a good reputation among local people for her work.

"Some women would call out my name 'Mei' cheerfully when they saw me," Liu said. When she left the Darfur office, local people held a farewell ceremony for her.

In 2005, Liu became one of five WFP staff who were given an award as "Brilliant Employees" out of more than 50,000 employees.

Majoring in animal husbandry, Liu started her career as an employee of an animal husbandry company and became a member of WFP in 1999. She worked as a program director for a WFP emergency aid project in south China after the region experienced floods in 1998.

Last October, Liu was sent by the WFP to work in Ethiopia, where she helps more than 1 million people.

(Xinhua News Agency March 6, 2008)

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