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Finalists announced for humanitarian award

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The Robert Burns Humanitarian Award recognises courage, commitment, inspiration and hands-on humanitarian efforts

A doctor dedicated to helping people in war torn Sri Lanka, a performer reaching out to those battling addiction and a humanitarian bringing the latest cancer therapies to the developing world, are all in the running for this year's Robert Burns Humanitarian Award (RBHA).

The winner will be announced via an online ceremony on Monday 25 January.

Part of the annual Burns an' a' that! Festival celebrations, the RBHA is supported by South Ayrshire Council.

The award recognises courage, commitment, inspiration and hands-on humanitarian efforts from people of any nationality, race, age or gender.

With Burns night nearly upon us, Dr Varatharajah Thurairajah, Mark Williamson and Dr Alexander Paterson have all been shortlisted as finalists for the RBHA 2021.

Dr Varatharajah Thurairajah, also known as Dr Varathan treated civilians caught up in the Sri Lankan civil war which lasted for 26 years.

During that time he performed life saving surgery despite limited medical supplies and facilities, risking his life to save over 350,000 people from the front line. After becoming severely injured during the conflict, Dr Varathan moved with his wife and family to the USA.

He continues to raise awareness for the protection of civilians and medical personnel in areas of conflict, Dr Varathan’s memoir A Note from the No Fire Zone was published in May 2019. He also acted in a documentary film called The Lamp of Truth to highlight the suffering of civilians without medical attention in the genocidal war.

Dr Varathan said: “I am very excited to hear that I was nominated for this wonderful award. I became a human rights activist because of my first-hand experiences. When I became a doctor, I wanted to serve in these war zone areas to help the people who were denied basic facilities. I extend my gratitude to all who voted for me in recognition of my services to the community.”

Mark Williamson is the founder of Sweet For Addicts, a non-profit recovery-based theatre group based in Glasgow. Mark formed the group in 2006 and has since worked with hundreds of people as they journey their way out of addiction.

He does not hold auditions but instead offers everyone the opportunity to be involved in a positive way, whether that’s choosing to go on stage and act, sing or dance, or to play an important role through the lighting, sound and prop preparation. 

Since 2006, Williamson has taken Sweet For Addicts to venues throughout Scotland to perform more than 20 plays, many of which he has written or directed. 

He said: “I'm surprised and delighted to be nominated and selected as a finalist for this award. I began working with addicts and alcoholics in Jericho House a rehabilitation unit in Greenock, as a way of providing a creative outlet for people caught in addiction and this led to the formation of Sweet for Addicts.

“I'm sure Robert Burns would have appreciated the power of creative endeavour in contributing to the recovery of these often forgotten men and women.”

Dr Alexander ‘Sandy’ Paterson is a medical oncologist whose work is renowned around the world. As well as practising in the UK, US and Canada during his career, he also volunteers in the teaching of medical skills to students all over the world.

It was while giving lectures in Southern and South-east Asia and South America a number of years ago, that he became acutely aware of the huge disparities in health care in Third World countries.

Dr Paterson is currently helping the University of Managua in Nicaragua with teaching, where he both visits the university to deliver lectures and brings junior consultants and senior residents to Calgary to study.

He said: “It’s a big honour, unexpected and humbling. Robert Burns has been one of the mentors in my life, his artistic genius, energy, life philosophy, humour, honesty and insight into the human soul, is an inspiration and model for all. Reaching out and helping those less fortunate in other lands gives us a perspective to push for practical solutions to help people in our own countries.”

Peter Henderson, chair of the RBHA judging panel, and Leader of South Ayrshire Council, said: "As always, the calibre of nominees was extremely high. It’s been difficult to decide on a final three, but this trio shone through. Between them, they have saved countless lives, either directly or indirectly and they are an inspiration. I am looking forward to the end of January when the winner will be announced.”

The winner of the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award will be announced via an online ceremony on Monday 25 January.

As well as the RBHA 2021 title, winners receive the equivalent of 1759 guineas (approximately £1,800) – a sum which signifies the year of the Bard's birth and the coinage in circulation at that time.



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