Paula’s Loyd’s hands were always in motion. Throughout her childhood, they embraced friends and family, they danced on the piano, clasped writing instruments, gripped tennis rackets and later oars on her college rowing team. Those delicate, yet firm hands later changed huge tires, worked on engines, and shifted gears of heavy machinery in the military. On some days, they patted the heads of children she met during her work in Afghanistan. They motioned respectfully to village elders and tribal leaders, shook Generals’ hands and took meticulous field notes. Paula’s hands were eager and resolute, undaunted – as she was herself. One snowy, icy evening, Paula’s hands gripped the wheel of a borrowed truck to drive a laboring woman to the hospital in a remote area of Afghanistan.
On Nov. 6, 2008, Paula was working in an Afghan village, talking to local people, when she was attacked and set on fire by a member of the Taliban. She examined her badly burned hands while en route to a nearby field hospital. “What a shame,” she told medical teams treating her, she was afraid that her hands wouldn’t – on this day – be able to complete an important report.
A native of San Antonio, TX, Paula graduated from Choate Rosemary Hall, Wellesley College and Georgetown School of Foreign Service. A highly regarded anthropologist, Paula honed her talents for collaboration and communication at Wellesley, which equipped her for more global pursuits and leadership. She graduated from Airborne School at Ft. Benning, Ga. In 2002 and was attached to the 82nd Airborne Division.
Paula’s skills and passion for helping others took her to many countries – but her real love was Afghanistan. She worked there for more than five years in a variety of positions, first as a heavy-wheeled vehicle mechanic in the U.S. Army, then as a Field Program Officer for USAID, and later as Civil-Military Officer with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. Before working as a social scientist in the Human Terrain System, Paula was a senior post-conflict specialist.
While Paula addressed many needs in Afghanistan, the challenges of women and children stood out as a critical concern. She saw firsthand how the lack of access to education impacted the lives of women and the community.
Paula’s hands penned one final directive before she traveled to Afghanistan for the last time. In a letter, she asked her parents to carry on her work helping Afghan girls if something should happen to her. While she did not survive the November 2008 attack, Paula’s work lives on through the capable hands of her family and friends, and the Paula Loyd Foundation.
Tributes to Paula Loyd:
Paula Loyd continues to be remembered as a leader in her field. Many individuals and organizations have held her up as an example of courage and integrity. In addition to raising important funds for the foundation in her name, many people around the world have honored Paula’s memory with special events, ceremonies, awards and visits. Below are some of the significant tributes and honors:
- In one incredible act of assistance, a friend at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan organized a marathon to raise funds for the Foundation. As the story goes, while dining, he challenged friends to donate money to the Foundation if he would “go out right then” and run a marathon in Kabul. In the four hours he ran, his dinner partners at the Embassy raised more than $2,700 for the Foundation. An official Embassy marathon, held later in Kabul with more than 300 runners, raised $10,000 for the foundation. That was no easy endeavor – running 26 miles in the confines of the Embassy property in a war zone!!
- In 2010, the Wards traveled to Afghanistan to meet many of the people with whom Paula worked at the United Nations, USAID and other groups throughout Afghanistan. The American Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, hosted them during their travels. Read about their trip here: https://paulaloydfoundation.org/2010/05/17/127/
- As word of the Paula Loyd Foundation spread, groups with which Paula was affiliated during her life stepped forward to honor Paula’s life in their own ways. In 2010, the global humanitarian organization Roots of Peace opened a new school for girls in the Bam Saray area of Afghanistan and named the computer center in honor of Paula. Roots of Peace is dedicated to eradicating landmines and rehabilitating the surrounding land and communities. Read more about the Roots of Peace and Bam Saray school here: http://rootsofpeace.org/blog/planting_the_roots_of_peace
- In 2011, the St. Thomas Humane Society named their new kennel building after Paula – honoring Paula’s lifetime love for animals and her dismay over the many stray and abused dogs in Afghanistan. It is a well-known story that Paula beat all odds to bring three Afghan puppies and one abused Afghan fighting hound home to the United States with her before the last trip back to Afghanistan
- As affirmation of Paula’s inspiring and enduring mission, Choate Rosemary Hall (Paula’s high school alma mater) selected Paul as recipient of the Choate 2013 Alumni Award. In a testament to Paula’s great legacy, the school’s alumni association voted unanimously that Paula should receive the award. See video and photos from the event here.