Lent Lecture 2015 - Baroness Cox review

Baroness Caroline Cox - The Pain and the Passion - the privilege of making a difference

"I cannot do everything; but I must not do nothing"

In the presence of the High Sheriff of Wiltshire Mr Peter Addington and the Mayor of Marlborough Marian Hannaford- Dobson, Baroness Caroline Cox of Queensbury gave an impassioned and moving lecture on the work of the charity that she founded in 2003 the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust HART (www.hart-uk.org).

Originally trained as a nurse and then as a social scientist, Baroness Cox said she became a Baroness "by astonishment". From that point she wondered how she could use the privilege of being a baroness to advance the relief of suffering. In the first instance she uses the privilege of a seat in the House of Lords to raise humanitarian issues and the case for aid and advocacy on behalf of those suffering from wars and oppression, particularly those where the main official aid agencies did not reach. She founded HART to put those principles into action on behalf of victims of oppressive regimes and communities suffering from cross border conflicts.

A fundamental principle of HART is that it works in partnership with damaged communities, in a way that respects their dignity, and avoids aid dependency. It consults communities on what they consider their priorities, and jointly plans action that will enhance rather than undermine local capabilities. Baroness Cox said that she always travelled personally to meet communities involved – even when they were in restricted zones - in order to see and experience for herself the conditions. In answer to a question she said she spent some half of her year abroad; the other half devoted to her advocacy role in the UK and elsewhere.

Metaphorically she took the audience on an illustrated tour of some of the main places where HART is in action.

In Burma, despite the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the junta still brutally suppresses some local ethnic and religious communities, displacing many who run away from attack on what Baroness Cox described as 'The Long Road to Nowhere' – since effectively they have nowhere to hide. HART works in partnership with local organisations to provide humanitarian aid – for example in providing medical back-packs for doctors on foot to reach the most inaccessible communities. In some places they were subsequently able to report that 8 out of 10 babies survived that would otherwise have died.

In northern Uganda the notorious Lords Resistance Army was responsible for the death of some half a million people; one and a half million displaced and some 25,000 abducted, brutalised and forced to fight as child-soldiers. Consultation with the local communities affected revealed that the fate of orphans was their top priority, and HART had helped to set up rehabilitation centre particularly for those affected by HIV.

HART is active too in Sudan and South Sudan helping at grass roots to relieve the suffering of civilians deliberately targeted and hence displaced by the Sudanese Army. In South Sudan some 1.5 million civilians have been displaced by fighting between the Government and rebel forces.

In Nigeria the extremist Islamic group Boko Haram continues to wreak outrages on Christian groups – including suicide bombing Churches as part of a reign of terror. HART had been able to help by paying the salaries of support workers. In future they hoped to develop inter-faith initiatives as part of confidence building, and trying to prevent radicalisation.

In answer to questions, Baroness Cox said that Boko Haram and ISIS both posed real continuing threats of considerable danger, with no easy answers in sight. It was often members of diaspora in the UK who brought HART's attention to communities in need. Funding came from the Isle of White, the Channel Islands, and sponsorship from philanthropic sources such as the Hiscox Trust., and donations from those who cared, such as churches and schools.

Geoffrey Findlay MBG Trustee