West Cumbria’s Mercy Mission

West Cumbria’s mercy mission


put to good use: Joan hands some clothes over to a family on her visit to Pakistan

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IT is fair to say that Hillary Clinton is not on Joan Capp’s Christmas card list. “Hillary Clinton? I’ve got a few things I’d like to say about Hillary Clinton,” reveals Joan, a Bootle resident and veteran charity campaigner who has dedicated her life to distributing aid by hand to crisis-hit areas all over the world.

Mrs Clinton, the US secretary of state and President Obama’s right-hand woman, deeply upset Joan with controversial comments she made during a press conference on a visit to Pakistan in October.

“I was most disturbed when I heard the press conference,” says Joan, who happened to be in Pakistan while Mrs Clinton was conducting a three-day visit, ironically designed to shore up the country’s relations with the US. “She implied that Pakistan is not doing enough to combat the Taliban. This comment inflamed me – and I’m not even Pakistani. Imagine the hurt that would have been felt by most of the ordinary people in Pakistan. What more could they do? They are waging war with their own people, killing their own people, to try and eliminate this enemy.

“It would have been nice if she had said how sorry she was for their soldiers and civilians killed, and thank them for their help in trying to get rid of the Taliban.”

The day before Joan arrived, on October 28, a suicide bomber killed 117 people and injured in 200 in Peshwar. Only four days later, while she was still there, a bomb killed 34 people in Islamabad, just three miles from where Joan was staying.

“Once you’ve been to Pakistan, you understand what these people have to contend with. You feel for the people and want to help – not criticise.”

Pakistan is the latest in a long line of countries to benefit from the remarkable work of Bootle Refugee Aid UK (Bracuk). Founded in 1991, the organisation is made up of four ladies from Bootle – Joan, Pat Kaye, Jean Hughes and Gina Cookson – who work tirelessly and voluntarily to raise funds and deliver aid to those in need.

And as a representative of Bracuk, Joan has been all over the world – including Bosnia, Romania and Chechnya – helping distribute aid in the face of civil war, natural disaster and other human tragedy.

However, following her first visit to Pakistan in 2006 after the devastation of the earthquake the previous year, she has made the country a priority for her organisation’s humanitarian efforts.

“I’ve been to many war zones over the years but I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Joan on returning from her first visit. “At least in war zones, there is the odd building still standing, but there, it was total devastation.”

Hand-delivering the aid is key to Joan and Bracuk’s way of working. “Rather than handing it over to the government and other agencies to dish out, it is important that people know exactly where their donations are going,” says Joan, who funds all her own expenses for the trips she makes.

Her most recent trip was to oversee the delivery of items donated to a community just outside Islamabad. The 40ft container was sent out in June, and Joan was able to visit in October, once the weather became slightly cooler.

A new vocation centre (to teach women to sew) and a clinic are being built, plus a new school to replace existing building, and items donated from Cumbria will be key to the developments.

“When Harecroft Hall closed last year, they donated their entire contents to us; beds, desks, books, games, uniforms, lockers. We were also donated bikes by Haverigg Prison, and computers from Waberthwaite School. This is in addition to the more than 300 sewing machines (for the vocation centre) that came from people from right across the county, from Carlisle to Millom. People have been so generous and I’d like to thank Workington Territorial Army, Alex Jones and Peter Woodhouse for all their help.”

It is hoped the new school will be ready to open this month, when the last of the donations will be given out, and Joan has been invited to formally open it.

“It would be an honour and I’m flattered to be asked, but I’m not sure yet whether I’ll be able to get out there. But it really is remarkable to see with my own eyes that a desk or a computer used by a child in Cumbria is now benefiting a child in Islamabad.”

But, as is usually the case, last month’s trip wasn’t as straightforward as Joan would have liked. “We always seem to run into red tape and bureaucracy. When we went out this time with the school equipment and sewing machines, the customs people were insisting that all the aid goes to the displaced people in the mountains – those who have fled their homes, mainly to escape the Taliban stronghold on the Afghanistan border – because it has been classified as a ‘disaster area’. Now the aid we collect is always for a specific project – a school or vocation centre or whatever it might be. The displaced people need blankets, medicine, shelter, and the items we were sending were not appropriate for them at all. We had a fight to get the container to where we wanted it to go, but we got there in the end.”

October’s visit was Joan’s fourth to Pakistan. During her first stay three years ago, she stayed in a field hospital in Balacot in the worst-hit area after the earthquake. “I was delivering medicine this time,” she says. “The Embassy spoke to the airline and they gave me special permission to fly with extra baggage, so I was able to take four big boxes of medicine.”

While there, Joan met Zahra Fatemi, a director of the aid organisation Flame, whom she has worked with on projects ever since.

Joan returned to Balacot at the end of 2006, this time with domestic goods and enough corrugated sheeting to provide shelter for 30 families. She also took school equipment donated from St James’ in Millom.

Her third trip took her to Kashmir – another earthquake-hit area – and she was able to pay for 12 goats from money donated by the congregation at St James’ Church, Whitehaven, and donate stationary collected by the church’s school. Joan’s latest project will see Christmas gifts handed out to children living in one of the few Christian communities in Pakistan, in an area just outside Islamabad.

“I met a young man through the True Worth Foundation, who identified this community to me. It is very poor, with no gas or electricity, and it must be very hard to live as Christians in an all-Muslim community. They try to give them a few sweets at Christmas, but they can’t offer much. So we decided to arrange to send a consignment of small gifts to them, which will be flying out on December 13. A lot of schools – Captain Shaw’s, Waberthwaite, Black Combe, St James’ (Millom) – have been working hard putting their parcels together, along with other members of the community, to help make Christmas this year a little bit special for children on the other side of the world.”

First published at 15:38, Wednesday, 02 December 2009
Published by http://www.whitehavennews.co.uk