LDS Church and AMAR Are “Doers” in Helping Refugees, Says Baroness Nicholson

Contributed By Rachel Sterzer, Church News staff writer

  • 2 May 2017

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland arrives at the House of Lords with Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne before he spoke to a foreign affairs group chaired by the baroness. The baroness also heads a charity, the AMAR Foundation, which partners with LDS Charities on aid projects in the Middle East.  Photo by Simon D. Jones.

In February of this year, LDS Charities volunteers traveled to Kurdistan, Iraq, to help train local midwives, nurses, and doctors in how to provide essential care to all mothers and babies. After receiving training, the local medical professionals were also given the equipment and resources necessary to train other medical professionals in their areas.

At the same time, the AMAR Foundation’s Women’s Health Volunteer program continued to train local Iraqi women to conduct regular visits to families within their community, providing them with health education and medical advice.

The braided objectives of “helping people help themselves” is just one example of the “deep similarities” shared by LDS Charities and the AMAR Foundation, said the foundation’s founder, Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne. Both organizations are “the doers of life,” she said.

The baroness—a member of the United Kingdom House of Lords and the executive chairman of AMAR—recently traveled to Utah to receive a Doctor of International Leadership and Humanitarian Service degree from Brigham Young University for her humanitarian work across the Middle East. In between receiving her degree during BYU commencement exercises April 27 and meeting with Church leaders in Salt Lake City, the baroness sat down with the Church News to discuss her work with refugees and the deepening friendship between AMAR and the Church’s welfare organization.

Baroness Nicholson was educated at the Royal Academy of Music before starting her career as a computer software developer and engineer. Her desire to help others, however, soon led her to enter politics, and she became a member of British Parliament in 1987.

Her concern with helping the displaced started early. “I grew up after the Second World War where millions of people were homeless,” she explained. “I’ve always known about refugees—always. It’s an unhappy feature of war.”

In 1991 she founded AMAR, which means “builder” in Arabic, to address the dire needs of Iraqis displaced by Saddam Hussein’s regime. In addition to providing broad aid through AMAR, the baroness has also worked to garner support for and increase understanding of issues surrounding refugees and displaced persons.

After decades of experience working with refugees, the baroness said the most important thing for individuals to remember—and something she will never forget—is “that every single refugee is your neighbor. That’s not a refugee, that’s your neighbor, and your neighbor has lost her home.”

Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne, founder and chair of the AMAR Foundation, at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 26. AMAR partners with LDS Charities on humanitarian projects in the Middle East. Photo by Rachel Sterzer, Deseret News.

In 2010 she accepted an invitation to meet with Church leaders in Salt Lake City, which led to a funding agreement, or a memorandum of understanding. “We set ourselves the task of supporting each other where it was appropriate to do so and working together where there were opportunities where it suited both agendas and for learning about each other with the objective of enhancing each other’s work,” she said.

Since then, the organizations have partnered in building health clinics and training centers, supplying emergency aid, supporting refugee health care centers, and helping victims of sexual violence in the Middle East.

“We’ve done a huge amount together,” Baroness Nicholson said. “Rather like the seed in the field, from a very small beginning.”

From that seed has sprouted a productive relationship. Both organizations believe in utilizing practical solutions in helping individuals rebuild their lives, she said, and draw from the same wellspring of concern for the common good.

“Also, I think the fundamental unit of society is the family, and both LDS Charities and the AMAR Foundation understand that profound truth and work from there,” she explained.

The cooperation of the two organizations has also led to personal friendships with several Church leaders, including Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Sister Sharon Eubank, director of LDS Charities and First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency.

In June 2015, at the invitation of the baroness, Elder Holland spoke at the annual meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Foreign Affairs in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster in London. The speech marked the first time a leader of the Church has addressed a gathering in the Houses of Parliament.

“That’s been very important,” the baroness said. “That’s been quite a breakthrough. It’s brought a greater understanding of the Latter-day Saints to the British Parliament than they had before, and that’s grown and grown and that’s good.”

That same year, the baroness spoke at Brigham Young University. In 2016, Baroness Nicholson said she was delighted to host Sister Patricia Holland alongside her husband at a five-day conference at Windsor Castle, the home of British royalty for close to 900 years.

“I’m quite happy with the fact that I’ve hosted them as a couple,” she said with a smile.

Sharon Eubank, director of LDS Charities, poses for a photo with Baroness Emma Nicholson, founder and chair of the AMAR Foundation, during a conference on religious persecution at Windsor Castle. Photo by Simon D. Jones.

Elder Holland called the baroness “a remarkable woman.” “She is a 'renaissance woman' in a day that dearly needs such breadth of experience and degree of talent,” the Apostle told the Church News. “She is devoting a major portion of her life to the disadvantaged and dispossessed. She is a Christian, an advocate, a gentlewoman, and a friend. I can’t say enough about my admiration and affection for her and the good she does.”

The baroness said she enjoys discussing theology with Elder Holland because “he’s a teacher.” Such dialogue is an “incredibly important” part of their work together, she said.

At the conference at Windsor, which concentrated on religious persecution and forced migration, Elder Holland spoke on how the Mormon refugee experience could help modern-day refugees rise above their circumstances.

In her recent meetings with Church leaders, the baroness discussed the theme of this year’s conference. “We’ve decided to focus on integration in the wake of religious persecution. In other words, when the fighting stops, when the cruelty ceases, at least momentarily, what do you do? Do you run further, or do you try to get back in and forge a situation where it’s less likely to happen again?”

The baroness said she hopes the partnership between LDS Charities and AMAR will continue to be “fruitful” both in changing attitudes internationally and in creating practical solutions. “I also hope and pray that we do a whole lot more work on the ground, multiplied by millions, for the people who need us as their partners to help them stand up and run again unaided.”