9/11 20 years on : how a Scottish charity opened their hearts to help devastated families

IT is one of those moments when everyone can remember where they were when two planes struck the World Trade Centre.

Rev Neil Galbraith was in a garage in Glasgow’s south side getting his car repaired when his attention was drawn to a television in the customer lounge.

“I can remember being in an Arnold Clark garage in Allison Street that day. It was busy with customers and the TV was on and we were drawn to what was happening. Everyone just stood and looked and I think there was a realisation that this was something else.

“There was one man in particular who was quite irate about something and then he suddenly changed when he saw the events on TV.”

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It was the following morning at the HQ of Glasgow the Caring City charity, founded by Mr Galbraith, that a volunteer asked what was he doing to do about it.

“I was asked what are you going to do about it as in those days the charity was in continual response mode,” added Mr Galbraith. “Anything that cropped up we responded or went to. It was a case of we’ll be there. That question stuck with me and it was a couple of days later before we thought of how we could help.

“I called the Port Authority Police Department explaining who we were and I didn’t think anyone would ever get back to us. However, we heard from them and said they would accept what help we could offer. Two of our volunteers were on a plane within days and worked the police department families unit and looked at what was needed. It is how the idea of the New York children’s project came about and six months later we began hosting families in Scotland who had lost a parent, husband or wife, to give them a diversion.”

Clinton Davis was proud to serve with the Port Authority Police Department. Pictured with his wife Simone and son Julian.

Clinton Davis was proud to serve with the Port Authority Police Department. Pictured with his wife Simone and son Julian.

The link up lasted for five years and families were given a chance to be together and feel welcome by their Glasgow hosts.

“Trips were laid on and youngsters were given the VIP treatment at attractions we went to. Some of them were just babes in arms. I can remember one mother reflecting with me as we waved them off at Glasgow Airport how she arrived in Scotland as a 9/11 widow, but was returning with a little bit more of herself.”

The project drew to a natural close five years later and it was a time the charity was also developing projects in Africa and also responding to other disasters in the world including in Pakistan and Brazil.

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“We must have seen around 60 families join us over the five year period and brought it a close with a concert in New York which involved Runrig.”

For Mr Galbraith the 20th anniversary of 9/11 coinciding with the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan leaving the country under the rule of the Taliban, has led to him questioning what they have achieved.

Rev Neil Galbraith looks back on 20 years since the New York childrens project

Rev Neil Galbraith looks back on 20 years since the New York children’s project

“One of the big things for me is that doubt has crept in. All the effort that we made not just in the five years after 9/11 with the children and families project but also the work we did in supporting the British troops in Afghanistan. The charity was involved in supplying 10,000 kites, with kite flying being the national sport of Afghanistan, to help build bridges with the troops and the people, I wonder what have we achieved. Has anything we have done over the past 20 years achieved longevity and I don’t think it has. Was it in vain? We had to hope for peace.

“I wouldn’t have changed our response to anything we would still, as a charity, responded to 9/11, earthquake disasters, humanitarian aid in areas such as Kosovo, but I don’t know if anything has been lasting.”

Just six months after the loss of her hero husband in the Twin Towers disaster Simone Mitchell and her son Julian found support and friendship during a trip to Scotland.

Clinton Davis had been a serving officer with the Port Authority Police Department and was based at the World Trade Centre.

Clinton Davis was proud to serve with the Port Authority Police Department

Clinton Davis was proud to serve with the Port Authority Police Department

On the morning of September 11, 2001, he had gone to work as usual. His wife Simone was enjoying a day off at home. Shortly after 9am, like millions around the world, she watched as the first plane struck one of the towers.

“I saw Clinton among a group of officers and they must have been talking about what they were going to do. The footage was shown on TV for most of the day so it gave me hope that he would be ok,” said Mrs Mitchell. “He was involved in getting people out of the building, but no one knew that the towers were going to collapse.

“He was in the building when it happened but it was several days before I was told officially that he was gone.”

A family liaison officer with the PAPD offered Mrs Mitchell and Julian, who was just 10-years-old at the time, the chance to come to Scotland as part of Glasgow the Caring City’s New York children’s project.

“It was only a few months since we had lost Clinton and we were still adapting, but we accepted the invite albeit with a little hesitation. We didn’t know what to expect, but I remember thinking that it would just be good to be out of the country for a little while,” added the 52-year-old.

“For Julian it was a chance to be with other children and for him to think he wasn’t alone. There was a chance to bond. The charity was so welcoming and we have formed life-long friendships with the volunteers.”

Julian, now 29, returned a second year and as an act of remembrance trees were planted in memory of loved ones.

While the 20th anniversary may seem like a milestone, for Mrs Mitchell there isn’t any difference.

“For me there really isn’t any difference. Twenty years might be seen as a marker, but every year is hard. We would usually join with other families from the PAPD, but this year there will be a service at the site.

Clinton had 16 year’s service with the PAPD and the 38-year-old had been based at the World Trade Centre for several years. He was in the North Tower working at ground level when it collapsed.

“I remember Clinton talking about his job one day and he said he wasn’t paid for what he did but for what he might have to do,” added Mrs Mitchell. “He certainly paid the price.”

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992