This evening, the Hopkins community learned that Elif Yavuz, an alumna of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), was killed in the terrorist attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall this week. More than 60 people, including Yavuz’s partner Ross Langdon, have been confirmed dead so far.
“The entire SAIS community mourns the loss of Elif, who committed her all-too-brief life to serving others around the world. We express our deepest condolences to Elif’s family and friends,” SAIS Dean Vali Nasr wrote in an email to the SAIS community.
Yavuz, a 33 year-old Dutch citizen of Turkish descent, was a malaria specialist working for the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Despite reports to the contrary, she was not employed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Yavuz received her M.A with a concentration in European Studies from SAIS in 2004, spending a year each at both the Bologna and Washington D.C. campuses. Yavuz worked for the World Bank after receiving her degree from Hopkins. Earlier this year, she received her ScD from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).
“Elif committed her career and her life to helping those in need. Her compassion was an inspiration to everyone she touched at HSPH and the broader global community in which she lived and worked. She will be deeply missed by all who knew her,” Julio Frenk, the dean of the faculty at the HSPH, wrote in a press release to alumni.
Yavuz was expecting to give birth to her first child next month. She had been traveling with her partner Langdon, an award-winning British architect and humanitarian, in Nairobi where they were reportedly scouting out safe hospitals for childbirth. Langdon had designed buildings across Africa with a particular focus on human development and sustainability. Among other works, he designed an HIV/AIDs hospital in Tanzania for free and an eco-village project in Uganda that employed only local labor.
Plamen Nikolov, one of Yavuz’s classmates at both SAIS and Harvard, reflected on Yavuz’s qualities.
“She was a wonderful human being, a very talented person with a lot of international experience. You know, she was always smiling,” Nikolov said. “So I am incredibly shocked to find out that she was one of the people who was in the mall at that time.”
Nikolov was able to connect with Yavuz in Africa when they both conducted fieldwork in Kenya and Tanzania in 2011 and 2012.
“Other than the fact that it’s a big personal loss, it’s also a huge global loss,” Nikolov said. “She was exactly the kind of person who makes the world a better place by putting a lot of her education into wonderful use, and so it is very, very tragic.”
Yavuz’s death sparked an outpouring from the international community as well, including a joint statement from the Clinton family mourning her death. Former President Bill Clinton had personally visited Yavuz last month in Dar es Salaam.
“Elif was brilliant, dedicated and deeply admired by her colleagues, who will miss her terribly. On behalf of the entire Clinton Foundation, we send our heartfelt condolences and prayers to Elif’s family and her many friends throughout the world,” Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton said in the statement.