Kasandra Milne has just returned to Zagreb after an 11-hour drive from central Bosnia over roads choked with snow and militia checkpoints. There, she tried to convince leaders of one of the beleaguered country’s several warring factions—she declines to identify the group—to stop harassing the Red Cross trucks she sends on daily rounds of refugee areas. Now, after less than four hours’ sleep, she is starting another 16-hour day. The pace is routine for the cheerful Albertan, who took up her post in September as relief co-ordinator for the International Committee of the Red Cross in the former Yugoslavia.
For someone whose responsibilities include feeding over half a million people, Milne radiates astonishing good humor. “This job is incredibly frustrating, challenging, aggravating and rewarding,” she says, sitting on a battered couch in her
modem office, a mere hour’s drive from where
Serbs and Croats regularly exchange artillery fire. “The joyous moments are seeing the convoys arrive, and the end of the day when no one on my staff gets hurt.”
Compassion Under Fire
Born in Lethbridge,
Alta., Milne came into her present profession almost accidentally. For 12 years, she worked in the Calgary head office of Esso’s human resources and public affairs departments. In 1985, the president of the Alberta Red Cross, whom she had met at a charity event, asked her to do volunteer public relations work. Milne agreed, her involvement grew, and in early 1990 she was offered a temporary overseas assignment. “I thought it would be a strictly one-shot experience,” Milne recalls with a smile. She arranged a six-month leave of absence and soon found herself living among the Dinka tribespeople of southern Sudan, distributing food aid to the vie-
tims of the country’s brutal civil war. “It was a very positive experience,” she says. “You see the results of what you are doing right away, which you don’t in most jobs.”
The hard part was coming home. After six months in Africa, she said she experienced reverse culture shock when confronting the excesses of North American consumer culture. “I went back to my job at Esso, which I loved before,” she says “but something was missing, something intangible.” Several months later, she quit her job and went to work for the Red Cross. Since then, she has served in war zones from Tajikistan, formerly part of the Soviet Union, to the Middle East. Now, she is on her second tour of duty in the former Yugoslavia.
Wearing a flak jacket, Milne—and the other dozen Canadian Red Cross volunteers in the region—travels often in Bosnia’s free-fire zones, but she is typically self-effacing about the dan-
ger she faces. “In most situations you are so busy reacting that by the time you have time to be afraid, it’s history,” she says. Her husband, Douglas Milne, a family doctor who has two
adult children from a previous marriage, maintains the family home in Calgary. “My husband is very supportive,” she says, “and probably quite lonely right now. It’s not easy. You love your work, and you love a person—and you have to balance the two.” Her husband, who intends to visit her in the spring, says simply, “I miss her.”
Milne has yet to decide what she will do when her current two-year contract expires. But helping suffering people in dangerous places, she says, has become “a compulsion.”
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