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NYU Awards Mandela Medal of Honor - 2002-05-08

Former South African President Nelson Mandela was awarded New York University's distinguished medal of honor as the school launched a new scholarship fund to attract African graduate students. After their studies, the students are expected to return to Africa with skills that can contribute to public health, management and the fight against poverty. Mr. Mandela calls poverty the greatest assault on human dignity. He says eradicating "social evils" of disease, poverty and deprivation is a challenge faced by all.

"The majority of the world's population continues to live in conditions of great poverty and deprivation," he said. "War and conflict still reign in many parts of the world. The divide between the rich and the poor within single nations and among nations is widening rather than being bridged. The struggle for true and universal human emancipation still lies ahead for the children, youth and future generations."

Mr. Mandela, described as a hero, was honored with the presidential medal of honor at a ceremony co-sponsored by New York University and U.N. AIDS.

A new scholarship fund was announced to help fight crises in Africa. Through the program, coordinated with leaders and universities in several African nations, African students will concentrate on areas in dire need of attention. One focus includes health policy, particularly the battle against AIDS and HIV.

"HIV-AIDS is killing more people than were killed in all the wars that have been fought in the past, as well as natural disasters put together," Mr. Mandela said.

The presidents of Mozambique, Uganda, Tanzania and Mali attended the unveiling of the scholarship fund. They are in New York for the United Nations summit on children. Mozambique's President Joaquim Chissano is the chair of the fund. He says education is a top priority in the quest for socio-economic development.

"As we seek to invest in an African renaissance, we realize that our success will depend on our own leadership capacity through an effective and efficient public service," he said. "We need highly qualified and experienced leaders, managers and civil servants."

U.S. entertainment star Oprah Winfrey has donated more than $2 million to the program to support African women students.