Born in Courtrai, Belgium in 1974, Hélène De Beir earned her master’s degree in international law at the Free University of Brussels, with a concentration in international law and international economics. She served as a graduate assistant to the democracy program of the Carter Center in Liberia, where she participated in the writing of a new democratic constitution. As President of the Oliviant Conference in Belgium, she organized and led a study tour of Poland, and later participated in development projects in India, Venezuela, Hungary and Kenya.
She earned a second master’s degree in international relations from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University and was a student delegate at the 1999 International Achievement Summit in Budapest, Hungary.
After a short career as a banker in Amsterdam, Hélène decided to commit herself to a humanitarian career. She joined Médecins du Monde on a mission to Herat, Afghanistan, where she served in a refugee camp. In Herat, she enrolled more than 60 girls to the UNICEF school, overcoming the objections of their tradition-minded fathers. She then joined Doctors Without Borders, serving as a Humanitarian Affairs Officer in Iraq, Ivory Coast, and once again in Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan, she was director of the hospital at Khair Khana, a remote post in the Badgis province. On June 2, 2004, she and four colleagues were caught in an ambush and savagely murdered. The perpetrators have never been brought to justice.
Hélène De Beir is remembered by all who knew her for her intelligence, her humor, and her dedication to the cause of the less fortunate. She was particularly concerned with the condition of women in poor countries. Let Hélène’s life and work stand as an inspiration for all who work to make this world a better place.
In memory of Hélène, her father, Francis De Beir, has created two institutions:
– The Hélène De Beir Scholarship at Johns Hopkins University, a grant for young women for young women from Islamic cultures to study International Relations at SAIS.
– The Hélène De Beir Foundation, to advocate for access to basic health care for the 2.5 billion people who are denied this fundamental human right.
International figures including Senator Emma Bonino (Italy) and former Presidents Jimmy Carter (U.S.) and Mary Robinson (Ireland), among others, now serve on the Honorary Committee of the Hélène De Beir Foundation.