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World's Children's Prize Honors Two Africans - 2003-04-23


Two Africans and a Brazilian organization are being honored this year as recipients of what’s been called the “children’s Nobel Prize.” The award ceremony is scheduled for April 28th in Sweden.

Nearly 290-thousand children in 26 countries voted this year to honor those who have fought against forced child labor and slavery and who have worked to save children from the horrors of war and malnutrition. The World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child is actually two separate awards: The World Children’s Prize and the Global Friends Award.

Seventeen-year-old Laura Hannant of Canada is the chairperson of the children’s jury.

She says, "The first year we gave the prizes in 2000. That year we remembered three children that had died fighting for the rights of the child. They were symbolic of the way children were treated in the last century. And it was a project that we hoped would create a new atmosphere for children and the fight for children’s rights in the new century. It’s something we think is starting to happen."

This year’s World’s Children’s Prize is being given to Maggy Barankitse of Burundi.

Ms. Hannant says, "Maggy Barankitse, who is winning the World’s Children’s Prize, has been working tirelessly for ten years to work with orphan children, children who’ve been orphaned by the war in Burundi. It’s her dream that there’ll be peace in her country. And she thinks that that will only come about if you bring children from the two different groups, the Hutu and the Tutsi people, together."

Ms. Barankitse, who - like Laura Hannant – is touring Sweden prior to the awards ceremony – also talked to the VOA. But she says she’s a little unsure of her English. She calls the prize “an encouragement” and hopes it will help, protect children.

She says, "Since October ’93 when the civil war in Burundi began, I took the children because they lost their parents. And then I took the orphans and I went away to protect them. And since that day, 24th of October, I took all the children, Hutu and Tutsi together, from Congo, from Rwanda also. And then, we created three centers in order to protect the children."

Ms. Barankitse says it does not take long for the children to set aside their ethnic differences.

She says, "When they arrive they can’t believe really. They have no trust. The first day they look at the educator or when we are different ethnically. But after that because they see it’s our challenges then they trust in us, and they are at peace. Among them, there are no problems, no ethnic problems."

The Burundi activist is credited with directly saving the lives of 25 children whose parents were murdered. Overall, her efforts have helped more than 10-thousand children. Those efforts often put her at risk in a country at war. And she calls on politicians, the army and rebels to stop the fighting.

Also being honored this year is James Aguer, who receives the Global Friends Award. Prize organizers say Mr. Aguer and his co-workers have documented thousands of women and children who have been kidnapped from their homes in southern Sudan.

Children’s jury chairperson, Laura Hannant, says he has saved lives and reunited families in Sudan.

She says, "There’s been war there. And he’s been doing work with people who are being abducted from the south of Sudan and brought to the north or other countries to work as slaves. It’s a problem that affects particularly women and children. He and his colleagues have succeeded in bringing more than two and a half thousand children back to their homes. And have created a register of 14-thousand people that they know have been abducted."

Mr. Aguer has been imprisoned more than 30 times – and two of his colleagues were killed trying to rescue children. Today, he has the support of Sudan’s government.

The final award – The prize of Honor – is being given to a Brazilian organization, Pastoral da Crianca. Its 155-thousand volunteers work with the country’s poor. Many of the volunteers themselves are poor. Yet they’ve succeeded in fighting malnutrition while at the same time bringing health care to many communities.

The children who vote for the prizes say part of their mission is to understand one another. This way, they say, there will be a greater chance for peace when they are adults and decision makers.

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