YEREVAN — Actor and human rights activist George Clooney arrived in Armenia to participate in the giving out of the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, and while there, he also participated in somber ceremonies marking the 101st anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
He and all the Aurora Prize founders, members of the jury, the nominees and guests visited the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide monument and laid flowers at the Eternal Flame with President Serzh Sargsyan and Catholicos of All Armenians.
Afterwards George Clooney visited the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute with other Aurora guests.
Marguerite Barankitse from Maison Shalom and REMA Hospital in Burundi was named as the inaugural Laureate of the $1 million Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity. At a ceremony held in Yerevan, Armenia, Barankitse was recognized for the extraordinary impact she has had in saving thousands of lives and caring for orphans and refugees during the years of civil war in Burundi.
As she accepted the award from Aurora Prize Selection Committee Co-Chair George Clooney, Barankitse said: “Our values are human values. When you have compassion, dignity and love then nothing can scare you, nothing can stop you — no one can stop love. Not armies, not hate, not persecution, not famine, nothing.”
As the first Aurora Prize Laureate, Barankitse will receive a $100,000 grant and continue the cycle of giving by donating the accompanying $1,000,000 award to organizations that have inspired her work. Barankitse plans to donate the award to three organizations in order to advance aid and rehabilitation for child refugees and orphans, and fight against child poverty. These organizations are: the Fondation du Grand-Duc et de La Grande-Duchesse du Luxembourg, Fondation Jean-François Peterbroeck (JFP Foundation), and the Fondation Bridderlech Deelen Luxembourg.
Baranktise emphasized: “I chose them because these people supported me and never abandoned me, even in difficult times. They have the same values as me and as the Maison Shalom — compassion, friendliness, dignity, and a generosity which costs nothing.”
“Marguerite Barankitse serves as a reminder of the impact that one person can have even when encountering seemingly insurmountable persecution and injustice,” said Mr. Clooney. “By recognizing Marguerite Barankitse’s courage, commitment and sacrifice, I am hopeful that she can also inspire each one of us to think about what we can do to stand up on behalf of those whose rights are abused and are in most need of our solidarity or support.”
Barankitse saved thousands of lives and cared for orphans and refugees during the years of civil war in Burundi. When war broke out, Barankitse, a Tutsi, tried to hide 72 of her closest Hutu neighbors to keep them safe from persecution. They were discovered and executed, whilst Barankitse was forced to watch. Following this gruesome incident, she started her work saving and caring for children and refugees. She has saved roughly 30,000 children and in 2008, she opened a hospital which has treated more than 80,000 patients to date.
Guests also celebrated the exceptional contributions of the other three finalists for the Aurora Prize: Dr. Tom Catena, from Mother of Mercy Hospital in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan; Syeda Ghulam Fatima, the General Secretary of the Bonded Labour Liberation Front in Pakistan; and Father Bernard Kinvi, a Catholic Priest in Bossemptele, Central African Republic (CAR). To mark the occasion of the inaugural Aurora Prize Ceremony, these exceptional humanitarians will be presented with a $25,000 award from the Aurora Prize co-founders to support the organizations that have inspired their work.
Leading humanitarian figures and Aurora Prize Selection Committee members, including Gareth Evans, Hina Jilani, Leymah Gbowee, Shirin Ebadi and Vartan Gregorian, attended and participated in the Aurora Prize Award Ceremony.
“During the selection process for the Aurora Prize, we came across truly remarkable stories of the human spirit, and an extraordinary number of inspiring individuals who are out there making a significant difference,” said Vartan Gregorian, member of the Aurora Prize Selection Committee and co-founder of 100 LIVES. “We are proud to be able to recognize Marguerite Barankitse and support the impactful work she is doing in a concrete way. She proves the tremendous impact one person can have on so many.”
The Aurora Prize Selection Committee included Nobel Laureates Elie Wiesel, Oscar Arias, Shirin Ebadi and Leymah Gbowee; former President of Ireland Mary Robinson; human rights activist Hina Jilani; former Australian Foreign Minister and President Emeritus of the International Crisis Group Gareth Evans; President of the Carnegie Corporation of New York Vartan Gregorian; and Clooney.