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Cultural Olympiad Awards Champions of Children's Rights - 2002-02-08

In addition to the sporting events taking place at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, there is what is referred to as the Cultural Olympiad, an artistic and musical world gathering that runs concurrent with the Games. As part of the Cultural Olympiad, the Reebok Sportswear company has presented its Human Rights Award. This year's recipients include a woman who rescues victims of sexual abuse in India and Nepal and an advocate for abused children in Zambia.

At a special ceremony at Salt Lake City's Capitol Theater, Native American performer Douglas Spotted Eagle kicked off the 2002 Reebok Human Rights Awards. This year the awards all went to women.

The awards are presented to activists under 30 who have made significant contributions to furthering human rights by non-violent means. Each of the recipients also receives a $50,000 prize to help further their work. Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, the daughter of the late U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy, said the Olympics offer a great opportunity to further the cause of international human rights.

"In the next three weeks as we watch the Olympic flame burning bright against the dark winter sky, lets remember the torches that these human rights heroes are carrying. They are beacons of hope against evil. We can find ways to bring that light into the shadows of our own communities," she said.

One of this year's recipients is 25-year-old Maili Lama of Nepal who helps to rescue girls and women from domestic violence, sex trafficking, and child prostitution. She and her daughter were kidnapped and taken to a brothel four years ago and forced to work in the sex trade. They were rescued by the Maiti Nepal organization. Speaking through a translator, Maili said her hope is that others will not have to go through what she did.

"I think the world is finally realizing what a great tragedy this is. And all of us should speak with one voice to condemn this atrocity and to better the plight of these poor trafficked women and girls," she said.

Another recipient of the Human Rights Award is 27-year-old Kavwumbu Hakachima of Zambia, who has been instrumental in her country in raising awareness of child abuse. She developed training programs through the YWCA to help recognize child abuse. She also created television and radio programs to educate the public about one the causes and signs of child abuse. Kavwumbu said that she hopes the award will help further her work.

"This award to me means a lot in the sense that I am hoping it will assist me to bring more attention to the issues of children when I go back to Zambia," she said.

Other recipients of this year's award included U.S. civil rights activist Malika Asha Sanders, who is working to educate young African Americans and help them develop leadership skills and an appreciation of their civil rights and cultural heritage.

Another award winner, Indonesian labor organizer Dita Sari returned the prize because it was awarded by Reebok. Sari said the sportswear company is a part of an international labor problem.

South African Human rights activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu said he hopes that the message of human rights does not get lost in the Olympic excitement. He said the United States has a special reason to pay attention to the cause of human rights because it will help win the war on terrorism.

"September the 11 will be repeated if we do not look at the root causes of [by terrorists]," he said.

Among those serving on the Board of Advisors for the award are former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, musician Peter Gabriel, former Olympic decathlete Rafer Johnson and Reebok CEO David Perdue.