George Clooney presented the inaugural Aurora prize, worth $1.1m (£760,000), to a Burundian humanitarian worker who saved thousands of orphans’ lives in the middle of a civil war. But the Oscar-winning actor, who has campaigned for an end to violence around the world, also addressed the global refugee crisis.
The first recipient of the award was Marguerite Barankitse, who was forced to flee Burundi last year and is credited with saving the lives of 30,000 children after ethnic tensions exploded into civil war in 30,000. Ms Barankitse, a member of the Tutsi tribe, set up Maison Shalom ‘House of Peace’ – during the war to provide a place of safety for orphans. She said she planned to share her prize money with other groups working with orphans and child refugees. Clooney said her work served as a “reminder of the impact that one person can have even when encountering seemingly insurmountable persecution and injustice”.
Another finalist was Tom Catena, the only resident doctor in the Nuba Mountains in southern Sudan serving 750,000 people, constantly facing aerial bombardment and providing desperately needed healthcare. “I’d feel like I was giving up if I left,” the doctor said. Because of his work in difficult conditions, Dr Catena was unable to attend the prize ceremony.
The third finalist was Father Bernard Kinvi, a Catholic priest, whose work in Central African Republic was praised by the Aurora Prize selection committee. Father Kinvi helped both sides in the country’s civil war, including refuge and health services to Muslim Seleka rebels and the anti-Balaka Christian militia. As he received a prize for being nominated, Father Kinvi told the audience: “This celebration is proof that only love can destroy hatred.”
The other finalist was Syeda Ghulam Fatima, the founder of non-profit organisation against slavery, the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, which has saved 80,000 people from a life of forced labour despite the constant danger she faces. She told the award ceremony in a pre-recorded film that she had been fighting against brick kiln owners to free slaves for 35 years and they have attempted to kill her several times. Tens of thousands of children have been saved from slavery thanks to her.
The winner of the award, known fully as the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, will be given a $100,000 grant together with a $1 million award for the individual to donate to other organisations.
The judges included Clooney, Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland, and Elie Wiesel, a Nobel peace prize laureate. “We were bowled over by the four finalists. It was humbling, very special to be able to recognise the achievements of the four finalists. I hope it will be a wonderful celebration of humanitarian concerns,” said Ms Robinson.