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Delivering bras to refugees

Dianne Boardman

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High PeakSouth AfricabraBBCLisa Ashton

Just one of the grateful recipients of Lisa Ashton's genorisity

When I spoke to Lisa Ashton she was trying to pack 2000 bras into her suitcase.  The rest of the space was to be taken up by packet after packet of sanitary towels.  These are things that we women think of as essential and yet for the inhabitants of South Africa’s squatter camps they are a wished for luxury that Lisa wants to get to as many women as she can.

“Local people have been so generous,” she told me, “word spread about what I was doing and donations have flooded in.  Even some men have been out and bought new bras for me to take.”

Lisa, from Glossop, arranged the bra challenge for the Winnie Mabaso Foundation that she founded 12 years ago.  She told me how she became involved.

Another refugee helped by Lisa Ashton

“I was working as a programme maker for the BBC and we were sent to South Africa to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the end of apartheid.  We were to film people who’d made a difference in the fight for equality and Winnie was one of them.  From the moment I met her I was in awe of her but she welcomed me into her bungalow and our friendship began at that moment.  One day I noticed that her back garden was filled with sunbed mattresses and I asked her why.  She explained to me that they were for the street children to sleep on at night to keep them safe.  The place was culturally worlds apart with mysticism rife and witch doctors trying to cure horrors like HIV using children as rape victims.  I had to do something about it.  I had to help her.  I came back to the UK and set up the Foundation in her name and I helped her raise the money needed to open a orphanage.”

Sadly not long after this goal was achieved Winnie died and Lisa went over for the funeral.  “When I saw all the children she’d helped holding hands around the coffin I knew I had to keep the dream alive and so for nine years I juggled running the foundation and working for the BBC.   It was a steep learning curve and I made a lot of mistakes.  It was not something I’d ever intended to do, I thought once the original money was raised that would be it.  I had to understand African culture and learn about HIV and we lost children to illness sometimes, but we went from strength to strength and now we have extended the foundation to embrace the whole community.  We earned their trust and now we all work together and have joined up with many other organisations on the ground there. We provide books and school uniforms for the children and have helped people set up vegetable gardens to feed themselves and earn an income with the surplus.  This builds self-esteem and reduces their reliance on outside aid.  We also take the children on trips, one memorable one was to see the ocean which they’d never seen before.“

The smile on this ladies face says it all

Travelling with Lisa this time was another trustee and former nurse, Barbara Hastings-Asatourian, who was running a sexual health clinic for the women with tests and advice and some vocational training as well as baby development and childbirth workshops.   Her suitcase was filled with bras and sanitary towels too as well as some rather unusual knitted body parts for demonstrations at her clinics.   

For more information look at the website: or e mail: or check out their Facebook page.