The founders of three international charities will vie for an award in the name of Robert Burns
Three third sector heroes are in the running for this year’s Robert Burns Humanitarian Award.
The shortlist for the award named in honour of the Scots Bard has been revealed.
Humanitarian Umra Omar – founder of Safari Doctors, which provides essential medicines and healthcare to people in remote parts of Kenya; nonagenarian and founder of Edinburgh Direct Aid, Dr Denis Rutovitz MBE – who put his life on the line to assist victims of natural disaster and war around the world; and human rights campaigner Jasvinder Sanghera CBE – who started Karma Nirvana, which supports victims of honour-based abuse and forced marriage.
Part of the Burns an’a’that! Festival 2019 and Burns 260 celebrations, the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award is supported by South Ayrshire Council and Scotland's Winter Festivals – a programme of events funded by the Scottish Government and managed by EventScotland.
The award recognises courage, commitment, inspiration and hands-on humanitarian efforts from people of any nationality, race, age or gender, with the three finalists meeting that criteria perfectly.
Umra Omar (35) founded Safari Doctors in Lamu, Kenya in 2015 and now provides essential medicines and healthcare to around 20,000 people in 20 villages along the country’s remote coastline.
The free service is provided by land, sea and air to villages that are caught between military and militants, and it has seen child immunisations rise, communicable diseases halve, expectant mothers attend antenatal appointments double, and family planning triple.
Umra said: “If we can, then we must make a difference – life is a journey for service. We are humbled and honoured to follow in the spirit of Robert Burns. It is indeed a global village whose fabric is interwoven by the beauty of diversity. In both sorrow and joy, we are one.”
Dr Denis Rutovitz MBE (90) enjoyed a distinguished career in human genetics before founding Edinburgh Direct Aid (EDA), a voluntary organisation assisting victims of natural disaster and war around the world. Established in response to the daily reports of war in Bosnia in 1992, Denis led the majority of aid convoys for the first three years, delivering food and essential supplies – often under sniper fire. After the war, Denis and EDA continued working to provide aid in Bosnia as well as Kosovo, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Kenya. In Arsal in Lebanon, where there are 35,000 Lebanese and around 70,000 Syrian refugees.
Denis said: “Our aim in Edinburgh Direct Aid is to help people in desperate need in distant places, and to do so in person with a hand of friendship, always. In our small way, we work to bring about the Bard’s prophecy: ‘That Man to Man the world o’er, Shall brithers be for a’ that’. And so, I’m honoured indeed on behalf of all my colleagues as much as myself to be selected as a finalist for the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award.”
Jasvinder Sanghera CBE founded Karma Nirvana, a human rights charity that supports victims of honour-based abuse and forced marriage after escaping her own forced marriage and seeing one of her sisters take her own life as a way out of the domestic abuse within her forced marriage. At the heart of the charity is a national helpline – which receives around 500 calls per month – to support victims in immediate danger, alongside training and development for professionals.
Jasvinder said: “I'm absolutely thrilled to have to have been selected as a finalist for the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award. I have absolute respect for Burns and his work in the field of social reform. I’ve always received a wonderfully warm reception from the Scottish people, so I'm really excited to be coming up for the award ceremony.”
Councillor Douglas Campbell, chair of the RBHA judging panel and leader of South Ayrshire Council, said: “The calibre of this year’s nominees – who came from right across the world – was truly outstanding and my thanks to everyone who took the time to nominate and share the fantastic stories of the 28 nominees my fellow judges and I had to consider.
“While it was no easy task to filter the list down to a final three, Umra, Denis and Jasvinder all stood out right from the start as fantastic examples of individuals who follow in Rabbie’s footsteps and devote themselves to others and push the boundaries for social change – transforming lives in the process.”
The winner of the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award will be announced at the awards ceremony in Burns Cottage on Wednesday 23 January 2019.