Saturday, April 25, 2015

Remembering Rita 1945 - 2015

Remembering Rita 1945 - 2015

Rita disliked fuss.   She was pretty straightforward about most things. She would fidget when things got overly complicated for no reason. In fact, this was a delightful quality she had.  She would often say to me, ‘Why make something so complicated when it’s not complicated at all!

Rita started work for UNHCR in 1973.  I met her in 1992 when she joined the computer section. She came to the section when desktop computers were becoming available to all staff for the very first time and laptops were becoming popular in the mobile workplace.  At that time, I was responsible for the purchasing, installation and shipment of all computer related equipment to the field by truck, ship or plane and Rita was responsible for managing the international loan pool for laptops operating out of Headquarters.  So we both worked very closely together discussing daily the new emergencies we had to handle and how best to deal with each situation which was always vastly different from the previous one. 

She was one of the first staff members in the computer section in the early 90’s to have made a successful career managing the hugely popular loan pool for laptops for more than 1000 staff members at Headquarters. Laptops used to be just too heavy, had a short battery life and often broke down, but this did not deter her in the least.  She would be at her desk during many lunch breaks fiddling about with her laptops until she got them going.  Rita was responsible for emergency preparedness – that is staff that would go to the field to take care of refugee situations at short notice.  She also had an extensive online computer system making absolutely sure that no-one would even dream of running off with her precious equipment!

Her contribution to UNHCR’s humanitarian effort was something that Rita took very seriously. She stood her ground for what she believed in and her idea of a lifestyle was to be true to that. Her strong work ethics played an important role in her life.  Rita was reliable, always available, never took sick leave, and never quit until she had solved every technical problem she faced and this meant she was full of surprises.  She was also an expert on the UN Staff Rules, Staff Rights, the complicated UN Pension fund, and knew all about how to manage your money in retirement!  I learnt a lot from her. So when she retired at the end of 2003, after 30 years of dedicated service to UNHCR, many colleagues, including myself, missed her.

We celebrated many events together in particular the annual Christmas lunch, which started in 1984.  Rita enjoyed this enormously.  She always looked forward to these warm get-togethers and over the years our dear colleagues became our dear friends.  It was at these special occasions she would tell us her quirky interesting stories about her life in New York in the 60’s with her sister Gwen. A true fan of the rock group - Queen - she was very much a babe of the 60’s and 70's – really into their music. 

However, Rita’s primary focus was always her loving son Christopher.  Coffee mornings at the office were always about Christopher - he achieving his maturity - and growing up into a handsome young man with such great promise.  How very proud she was of him.  I remember the time when he worked in a bank.  Disillusioned by the world of banking, he decided to leave to become a primary school teacher.  Rita took delight in his choices and successes and then the most exciting moment came when her son married Nadine becoming her loving daughter-in-law. 

During these last most difficult weeks Rita and I talked about the future, her fears, her concerns, her past and her present.  You see Rita was a lady who had truly enjoyed her life and was grateful for the good times.  In particular, she told me she would miss her dear sisters Gwen and Pat who she leaves behind.

I met Pat some years ago when she requested a visit to CMS at CERN's Large Hadron Collider, which Rita asked me to organise.  Last week, Pat came back to Geneva to spend quality time with Rita just a few days before she passed away.  I know how precious and important Pat’s love and support meant. 

Rita’s sister Gwen, who Rita also cherished and loved, was with Rita during her last 6 days.  Gwen, who had tragically lost her own young son 20 years ago to the sea, consoled Rita in her last hours.   Realising that her time was limited, Rita remained philosophical, brave and resilient to the end.  Her last wishes to me were that it was important to her that she was able to spend some quality time with the people she loved.  She knew she had to leave us and she accepted that.  She said that her family should stay strong, they should stay united and that they must do their best without her – the best they know how in her memory.

And finally, I would like to mention Rita’s best friend, Liz Tayfun who Rita met her first week in UNHCR in 1973 in the English typing pool.  It was there they discussed how they could find better jobs and thereon remained good friends for 40 years helping each other through the drama of life and Liz remained true to friendship soothing her to the end.

I’m trying not to cry for Rita.  But however hard I try to fight back the tears, I can only cry, and, as every tear trickles from my heart like dew on a morning meadow, I know she would be fidgeting in her seat and telling me ‘don’t make the situation more complicated then it actually is and don’t make such a fuss, all on account of me!’

Her family was everything
Her faith paramount
Her son and his wife her legacy
God Bless Rita
May she rest in peace





The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announces with profound regret the death of

Ms. Rita Kitto Burki
Former Staff Member

on 17 April 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Ms Rita Kitto Burki joined UNHCR in July 1973 as a Shorthand Typist at Headquarters in Geneva. In 1975, she was assigned as Secretary in the PPR Unit and subsequently as Secretary in the Public Information Section. In 1992, Rita joined the IT & Telecom Service (ITSS) as Senior EDP Clerk. In 1998 she was appointed in ITTS as EDP Assistant, a position held until her separation from the organization at the end of 2003.

She leaves behind her son Christopher.

The funeral ceremony will take place on Thursday, 30 April 2015 at 10 a.m. in the Sainte-Croix Church in Carouge, Switzerland.

Colleagues wishing to express condolences may do so by addressing them to the staff council (HQSR00@unhcr.org ) who will transmit them to the family.


* * *

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Lady, the Knight and the Elusive Higgs Boson! UNHCR Dialogue

The Lady, the Knight and the Elusive Higgs Boson!

Former UNHCR staff member and author Vatsala Virdee was accorded the honourable title of Lady Virdee on 17 October 2014 when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II knighted her husband, Tejinder, at Windsor Castle for his services to science.
Vatsala’s career in the United Nations spanned 28 years.  She first worked for UNDRO (OCHA) in 1981, followed by a long and successful career in DIP, SMS, DIST and the Staff Council at the UNHCR.  However, it was only in 2005 that we discovered that we had a writer in our midst when she published her first novel, Rubies and Rickshaws, a romantic story set in the Himalayas. Inspired by her experiences while living in India in the early 70’s, Vatsala wrote it all down creating this fairytale romance. 
Born British to parents from India, Vatsala’s father took a big step when he decided to leave India. Her father had been displaced from his home in Karachi following the partition of India and, in 1947, decided to leave the Indian sub-continent altogether to start a new life in the UK.  He borrowed just enough money to buy a ticket on the first passenger steamer to leave Bombay for Southampton after independence, arriving alone and penniless in post WWII London.  He would become a successful businessman and repay the borrowed sum a few years later. He also built a school in his native village back in India, which Vatsala and her husband, Tejinder continue to support.
Having grown up in the UK, Vatsala decided to move to Geneva in her late teens where she met her husband, particle physicist Tejinder Virdee, in 1975.  I asked her to tell me the story behind her husband’s recent knighthood.
She explained that Tejinder, who is Professor of Physics at Imperial College in London, is based at CERN, the world’s largest particle physics laboratory located on the Franco-Swiss border.  In the early 1990s physicists at CERN began designing an accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which could recreate some of the conditions present in the universe immediately after the Big Bang. The LHC needed powerful detectors so Tejinder and a handful of colleagues designed and then with colleagues from all over the world built the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), which had the potential to record any new fundamental particles the LHC could produce.
On the 4th July 2012, CMS and a sister experiment discovered the elusive Higgs Boson.  CMS can be described as a gigantic state-of-art digital camera, able to take 40 million 3D pictures per second of some events similar to those that would have been occurring moments after the Big Bang. CMS is located 100 meters underground in a vast cathedral-like cavern, and weighs a hefty 14,000 tones. The LHC is like a super-highway 27-kilometer tunnel smashing sub-atomic particles at speeds very close to that of the speed of light.  All this is only accessible by way of a lift shaft designed to take physicists, engineers, and equipment up and down to the underground tunnel. The Higgs Boson is the last of the fundamental particles of the Standard Model of Physics, the most powerful scientific theory humankind has ever devised.
Tejinder, also of Indian origin was born at the foothills of Mt. Kenya, Nyeri, and studied in Kisumu, Kenya until the age of 15. In 1967 his family settled in the UK. Now, as one of the UK's most distinguished physicists, Tejinder is well known for developing new technologies within CMS that enabled it to prove the existence of a field, whose quantum is the Higgs boson, and hence the mechanism that explains how fundamental particles acquire mass, and ultimately why our universe has substance. To acknowledge his extraordinary contribution to science he was awarded a knighthood, which was bestowed by the Queen herself.
Angelina Jolie, the UNHCR Special Envoy, was also among the recipients in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list of 2014, becoming an honorary Dame.
I asked Vatsala how she sees her life now that she is titled Lady Virdee.  “Nothing has really changed. Life after UNHCR carries on as normal,” she says, “I’m delighted for my husband who risked so much professionally to stick with a project he firmly believes in.  To achieve success and then get the recognition for it is a bonus.  We met the Queen and that was a fantastic moment – one we’ll never forget!“
During her retirement, Vatsala has always stayed connected to UNHCR and helps the Staff Council whenever she can. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Vatsala for this interview and extend sincere congratulations to Professor Sir Tejinder and UNHCR’s own Lady Virdee!  By Peggy Brown


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tejinder Singh Virdee Knighted 17 October 2014




Experimental particle physicist Tejinder Virdee accorded prestigious Knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II


On 17 October 2014, Tejinder Virdee FRS was knighted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle.  He is best known for his innovative design, physics research and overseeing the construction of the gigantic CMS Experiment at CERN located 100 meters underground in a vast cathedral-like cavern at the Large Hadron Collider. 

Sir Tejinder, also Professor of Physics at Imperial College in London, was named a Knight Bachelor for his Services to Science in the Queen's Birthday Honours List, released in June 2014.

Sir Tejinder, the citation reads, is one of the UK's most distinguished physicists and, as one of the creators of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) Experiment, he has made outstanding contributions to science.

The CMS experiment, at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, has delivered seminal results in particle physics, including the groundbreaking discovery of the Higgs Boson, a particle that gives mass to other particles.

Beyond his innovative work in particle physics, he is also a great campaigner for science, and promoter of science and education in India and in Africa where he was born.

Sir Tejinder, 62, developed new technologies within the detector that allowed it to find the Higgs - the mechanism that explains how fundamental particles acquire mass, and ultimately explains why our universe has substance.

Asked how he felt upon receiving the news, he said, "This accolade was a complete surprise to me. It's really quite humbling and of course I'm delighted to receive it. The Higgs boson is a very special type of particle - a type we've never seen before. It has unusual properties that we need to study and understand in more detail”, he said. 

Sir Tejinder celebrated his knighthood in style.
“My wife Vatsala and I had three grand and memorable events.  Celebrations kicked off last summer with a garden party around our swimming pool in Geneva with my scientific colleagues, friends and family. Another event was held in Birmingham, which my mother organized at the Sikh Gurdwara. And finally on 6 Sepember, Ramaben Oza, Rashmi and Bharat and family organized a big Bollywood bash in Cheshire at Vatsala’s family home. 

On the day of the Knighthood we opted to have a small intimate family luncheon in Windsor following the official ceremony at Windsor Castle. This gave us a chance to really soak in the events of whole day, relax and talk about the Queen, prolonging the excitement of a truly fantastic day for all of us".




Thursday, October 09, 2014

Exporing Whichlight by Kawan Virdee, Open Web Artist

Watch Kawandeep Virdee on youtube by Jonathan Dana


Bubblegum postcards, projecting on building images from your mobile phone using sounds and dots
Dancy Dots, connecting sounds and music on a webpage through dots. Creating a virtual world using creativity and artistry.
Cellular network devises projected on a mural

Building an Artist's Web Canvass to make sounds to develop interactive and collaborative works

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Winner of the Gujarati Samacher, Professional of the Year

22 Setpember 2014 
Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen,

It's a great honour to receive this award.  

Just briefly I would like to say a few words about the importance of scientific research. Doing scientific research and making progress in fundamental Science, allows us to get a deeper understanding of how Nature works which goes on to improve the way we live and at the same time continues to explore the universe around us.  All this, ultimately, inspires us scientists to continue our thirst for the quest for knowledge!

Over the centuries this deep understanding of science has very much altered the way we live – giving us a much better life and a far better future.  Scientific research has given us paradigm shifting technologies, such as electricity, electronics, telecommunication, medical imaging and the World Wide Wide invented at the Centre for European Particle Physics in Geneva, Switzerland 20 years ago. Without it we could not be the society we are today. 

I would like to thank the organizers of the 2014 Asian Achievers Awards for this prestigious award.


Asian Achievers Awards 2014 Professional of the Year Award

At a glittering awards ceremony in London, organized by the Asian Achievers Awards 2014, Virdee received the award for his outstanding achievements in the field of physics.

Virdee's design and construction of CMS also lead to the discovery of Higgs Boson that merited the 2013 Physics Nobel Prize.

In recognition of his work on CMS he has been awarded the Institute of Physics 2007 High Energy Physics Prize and the IOP 2009 Chadwick Medal and Prize.

He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Institute of Physics in 2012 and in 2014 he was knighted in the Queen's Birthday Honours for services to science.

The award recipients on Friday night also included Dr Richie Nanda, an international security magnate and the Executive Chairman of Topsgrup and The Shield Group (Entrepreneur of the Year).

Other award recipients were Bombay-born Hanif Kureishi, an English playwright, screenwriter and filmmaker and novelist (Achievement in Media, Arts and Culture), Wasim Gulzar Khan, the first British born Pakistani to play professional cricket in England (Achievement in Community Service), Dilawar Singh, Director, Sports Council for Glasgow, the first Asian and Sikh police officer in Scotland, who spent over 30 years with Strathclyde Police (Sports Personality of the Year).

Priya Lakhani, a former barrister who founded the FMCG business Masala Masala in 2008 (Woman of the Year).

Sir Anwar Pervez, founder and chairman of Bestway Group (Lifetime Achievement Award), Mahmud Kamani, a leader in fashion industry (Business Person of the Year), Shahid Khan (Editor's Award for Rising Star) and Late Flt Lt Rakesh Chauhan (Editor's award for Bravery and Patriotism).

Philip Hammond, MP, Britain's Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth affairs, who was the Chief Guest, said a new generation of Asian entrepreneurs is encouraging the British Asian community to expand into new sectors.

"Today, 50,000 British Asian businesses in the UK together generate more than 60 billion pounds nationwide," he said.

Organizer of the event, C B Patel, Publisher/Editor, ABPL Group, said, "The Asian Achievers Awards prides itself on showcasing remarkable people and role models and our 2014 nominee list exemplifies that perfectly.

The High Commissioner of India to the UK, Ranjan Mathai was among the prominent personalities present on the occasion.