A Prince Albert-born and raised woman is a key part of the team that took home this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
Brenda MacGregor is currently the head of security in Afghanistan for the World Food Programme (WFP), which received the 2020 prize in October.
MacGregor started her policing career with the Prince Albert Police Service in 1994 before being recruited to work in the Cayman Islands.
“It was -57 C in Prince Albert the day that I got hired to go to the Cayman Islands so I was very happy to police in the Caymans,” Brenda said in an interview with the Herald.
After two years in the Cayman Islands, Brenda was hired with the United Nations (UN).
Brenda said the “global perspective of making a difference” is what attracted her to working for the UN.
She began her career with the UN is Kosovo and later worked in Sudan as an investigator. In 2009 she was hired by WFP. Her career with the WFP has taken her to Somalia, Pakistan and now Afghanistan.
Brenda’s role is to ensure the WFP can administer programs and make sure staff are able to reach people in need, safely. Millions of Afghan’s access the programs and food every year.
The biggest threat to the organization is insecurity.
“We have to battle, every day, assassinations. We have … explosions, we call them MIDs which is magnetic bombs that they put on the sides of vehicles. There’s so many things that we have to mitigate just to get our job (done), to get to people in need, it’s crazy.”
In a press release, the Norwegian Nobel committee said the WFP was awarded the peace prize for their “efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.”
Brenda said that while the WFP notices conflict, they see hunger first.
“We feed all that are in need. We don’t just choose who the government chooses to feed but we’re the ones who make those decisions based on the need of the beneficiaries so we are trying to separate conflict from food because of course we believe that food is our pathway to peace.”
Brenda is currently living in Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan, with other WFP staff in a compound that resembles a maximum security penitentiary. It’s meant to keep staff safe and has armed guards to stop people coming into the compound to attack. The WFP travels in armoured vehicles when they deliver food to communities to ensure staff safety.
Brenda said she and her fellow colleagues couldn’t believe they had won the Nobel Peace Prize at first. While they did have a little celebration after, when staff found out about the award they went on with their daily tasks.
“Our kitchen staff made us a cake so we all had cake. That was it. That was how we celebrated because of course, we still have to work,” Brenda said.
While she doesn’t have a family of her own, as she says her job has been her life, Brenda does have two brothers, a sister, and parents back home in Canada.
She’s says they’re used to her job now, but she remembers in 2013 there was an explosion in Kabul that killed a Canadian. The first thing her parents thought when hearing the news is that it must have been Brenda who was killed.
“I had to tell them, no there’s many Canadians here and we make sure that we’re safe. We really do mitigate as much risk as we possibly can and that’s what my job is,” Brenda said.
Brenda’s mother, Karen MacGregor, said she was always independent and adventurous.
“She doesn’t tell us very much, nor do we really want to know the fine details, but it is a very dangerous job,” Karen said.
Karen keeps in touch with her daughter nearly every day. She said Brenda and her 99-year-old grandmother video chat every Saturday morning.
Karen added that she found out about the Nobel Peace Prize both from T.V. and from Brenda herself.
“I thought it was great, they do a wonderful job and it’s very dangerous job so it’s nice to see them honoured,” Karen said.
Blair MacGregor, Brenda’s twin brother, isn’t surprised his sister took the path she did.
The two lived together in Prince Albert when Brenda was working for the police force and Blair was a parole officer at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary.
“She has that personality where she wants to succeed in life. She’s a type A personality so she’s always pushing her boundaries and she excels in policing,” Blair said.
Like his mother, Blair also heard about the Nobel Peace Prize from the news. Blair said he’s very proud of his sister.
“It’s nothing little when you hear ‘Nobel Peace Prize,’ right?”
“She’s worked hard to get where she’s at and this organization is well-recognized because of the work they do,” Blair added.
He talks to his sister regularly through messenger to see how she’s doing and always wonders if she’s safe when he hears about incidents in Afghanistan.
Brenda takes pride in both her humanitarian work overseas and her home country. She says she wants to return to Canada one day.
“I’ve done so much globally I feel that I really need to give back to my community, my family and to the country.
Karen said she’s surprised her daughter wants to return to Canada and she’s not sure how she’ll handle the cold winters after living in warm countries for so long.
“She’s led a very, very interesting life. She’s been almost everywhere but it’s always the dangerous places she goes to. It’s not a job (where) you lay on the beach,” Karen said.
Blair said he knows his sister’s heart is with the WFP, but the family would love to have her back in Canada.
“She has some things she wants to complete and finish off in her career,” he said.
“When she’s ready we got a place for her to come back to,” Blair added.
The MacGregor family has moved to Alberta but say they still consider Prince Albert home.
In February, Brenda will be packing her bags and moving to Rome where she’ll be taking on the role of deputy of operations for security globally for the WFP. She said it’s “huge to think about doing that.”
Brenda says everyday she wakes up with energy and enthusiasm to be working for the WFP.
“You really do believe in what you’re doing and you’re making such a difference.”