Convocation Series: Baroness Caroline Cox and HART

Baroness Caroline Cox stirred up the Cate community on Monday, February 25, with her impassioned presentation on HART: Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust. Baroness Cox received her title when she became a member of the House of Lords, Britain’s appointed Parliamentary House. She was an engaging and down-to-earth speaker; as she quipped, “I was the first Baroness I ever met!” Cox is the founder and CEO of HART, a humanitarian agency that provides both advocacy and aid for peoples whom she characterizes as “unreached, unhealed, and unheard.”

As Cox explained it, the major aid organizations can only enter a country with the permission of the sovereign government. Although legally speaking this is true of all NGOs, Cox and her team enter war-torn countries illegally. They obtain firsthand evidence of human rights abuses in order to inform their advocacy and to supply aid to those who are in desperate need.

With emotionally compelling slides to accompany her words, Cox showed the Cate community images from Burma (Myanmar), Armenia, South Sudan, and the Republic of Sudan, all places she has personally visited dozens of times. The travel is rugged; in these areas, roads are few, life is desperate, and the possibility of violence is ever-present. For Cox, this is all the more reason to go. She explained HART’s protocol, which is always to work with local partners. In this way, HART maintains the dignity of choice for local people, who have the best idea of their community priorities. By working through local partners, HART also avoids upsetting the local economy, prevents aid dependency, and enhances local leadership.

Although Cox was very direct about the suffering of the people with whom she works, she also celebrated the triumphs in which HART has been able to participate. Some of the “points of light” mentioned by Cox included Dr. Sasa, who runs the Health and Hope Clinic in the Chin State of Burma and has trained over 1,000 community health workers in an area that previously had no health care at all. She spoke of the Lady Cox Rehabilitation Centre, established in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. Run by founder Vardan Tadevosyan, the clinic has become a global center for excellence in reducing the stigma and providing medical care and therapy for people of all ages who are disabled. Cox was even able to find achievement in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, where the local people are under constant aerial bombardment from the government of President al-Bashir, who has already been indicted for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. After emergency medical aid, the Nuba people cited education as their community’s first priority. Showcasing her ability to find the humor in almost any situation, Cox told Cate students a story about their peers in Sudan. As the government in Khartoum particularly targets schools, markets, and other gathering places, students are educated on the mountainside. When instructors from Kenya arrive to administer standard exams, the students come prepared with large rocks. If and when bombs begin to fall, the students place their exam papers under their rocks, run to caves for cover, and can return to undamaged exams when the bombardment is over. As Cox joked, “Talk about exams under pressure!”

Although there was little time for questions, Cate students were clearly moved by what they learned from Baroness Cox. Frankie Nieman wondered whether HART, founded on Christian principles, gave aid only to Christian sufferers. Cox affirmed that Christian doctrine informed their work, especially St. Francis: “Pity weeps and turns away. Compassion weeps and puts out a hand.” As HART lives this creed, the group reaches out a hand to groups of any faith. Jackson Weinburger voiced the question that the whole audience seemed to be thinking: “What can we do from here?” Noting that HARTUSA was established in February of this year, Cox encouraged Cate students to write their representatives, give money if possible, and continue the good work of service that she has seen from her friend Kate Bradley’s Metherell Challenge grant. Cox acknowledged the overwhelming need in a desperate world. However, looking back on the accomplishments of the 6-person HART team, she gave the audience the mantra by which she lives: “I cannot do everything, but I must not do nothing.”