Inspiring humanitarians making a real difference revealed as finalists for prestigious Robert Burns award

A child’s rights activist, a nun helping destitute women and a Zambian looking to end marginalisation are all in the running for this year’s Robert Burns Humanitarian Award (RBHA).

Dr Digambar Narzary, Sister Lucy Kurien and Paul Kasonkomona have all been shortlisted as finalists for the RBHA 2022, part of the annual Burns an’ a’ that! Festival celebrations – supported by South Ayrshire Council and Event Scotland – as part of Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022.

The prestigious award recognises hands-on humanitarian efforts from people of any nationality, race, age or gender.

Dr Narzary is a child’s rights activist and founder of an organisation called NEDAN, which tackles human trafficking in north-east India.

Since its formation in 2004, it’s estimated that NEDAN has rescued and repatriated around 6,100 girls, saving them from horrors including sexual slavery, bonded labour, forced marriage and the illegal trafficking of human organs.

Dr Narzary, who has been liberating children from modern-day slavery for 20 years, said: “I extend my gratitude to all who have recognised my services to socially-deprived children and the community.

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“I want to continue my work and provide new lives to children.”

Sister Lucy is the founder and director of Maher, a community and interfaith organisation for abused and destitute women and children.

Inspired by Mother Teresa, Sister Lucy joined the Holy Cross order at the age of 19 and, in 1997, she founded Maher, meaning ‘Mother’s Home’.

Maher currently looks after 893 street children; more than 357 destitute women (including 126 mentally-ill homeless women); and 82 elderly or mentally-ill destitute men. It has transformed the lives of more than 85,000 people.

Sister Lucy said: “I really feel fulfilled that I am being considered for the award, which is in memory of Robert Burns, a great poet and humanitarian devoted to the promotion of human wellbeing and social justice.

“His empathy for the poor and the vulnerable is particularly appealing to me.”

Mr Kasonkomona is a human rights defender and executive director of the Centre for Tolerance and Peace in Zambia.

He champions the human rights of health care workers; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people; and other marginalised groups.

In 2013, Paul was arrested after taking part in a TV show where he argued that recognition of gay rights was necessary to combat the Aids epidemic in Africa. His acquittal took 22 months.

Paul said he felt “overwhelmed and emotional” receiving the news of being a finalist for the award.

He added: “I am at a loss for words. This is a very special moment in my life.”

Peter Henderson, chair of the RBHA judging panel and leader of South Ayrshire Council, said: “This year’s finalists are truly inspirational. “All three are champions for change, giving a voice to those who are often downtrodden and ignored.

“Between them, they have transformed so many lives. 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 Tuesday, January 25.

As well as the RBHA 2022 title, winners receive the equivalent of 1,759 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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