A salve to South Asia
WHO: Rachel Williams, 53, of Groveland
WHEN: A month in November-December
WHY: "I've been working for years on Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan through RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan ," Williams said. "On my trip there last year , the earthquake happened," she said of the disaster that killed a reported 70,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless. "On that trip I saw so many possibilities to reach out and help that I had to go back again."
WHERE POLO RULES: Williams, who lived in Singapore for 20 years with her former husband, got to know Pakistan through polo. "I started riding at the Singapore Polo Club," said Williams, a personal fitness trainer. "The best polo players in the world are from Pakistan, and they kept inviting us to visit. I used to go three times a year. When I moved back to the States [in 2000] I searched the Web for how I could help Afghan women here and found RAWA."
REMARRIAGE AND ROTARY: With her new husband, Fred deNapoli , Williams also found a new way to help people -- through the Rotary Club, a community-based international service organization. "Fred introduced me to Rotary, and I helped hook up RAWA with Rotary," said Williams, who is now the international chairwoman of the Ipswich Rotary Club . On this trip she met and sometimes stayed with fellow Rotarians in Pakistan, as well as doctors she met through the Association of Pakistani Physicians of New England .
CHILDREN'S DEEP NEEDS: After visiting friends and Rotarians in Lahore, Williams traveled north into rocky hills to Pindi and Peshawar and stayed in Afghan RAWA orphanages and schools. "Once a week the kids get milk, eggs, and meat, but mostly they live on rice and beans. And they study so hard." Williams said she used "change left from friends' carpet-shopping funds" to buy chairs for the Pindi school.
AFTERSHOCKS: Williams acted as ambassador for Hamilton's Winthrop Elementary School young Rotarians, who have signed on through the Ipswich club to help a school in Kashmir, the area hardest hit by the earthquake. "A rough prefab building with three classrooms has been constructed," she said. "In front of the school is a garbage dump, soon to be a playground. There's no heat, electricity, or plumbing." Around Muzaffarabad, "there were terrible reminders of the quake," she said. "So many students died when schools collapsed last year that only little kids and young adults can be seen around town. . . . The outskirts are mostly rubble and tent villages. All this is set among the breathtaking Himalayan mountains."
TOOLS AGAINST TERRORISM: "I'm going to plan a tour next year for half a dozen people. Whenever I give my talk at the Rotary clubs, everyone wants to come with me and then they go home and their friends and relatives talk them out of it" because it's a Muslim country, she said. "It's not dangerous. All the talk about danger, it's heartbreaking. Education and communication are how you fight terrorism."