Aurora Prize Honors Humanitarian Work

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Marguerite Barankitse accepts the inaugural Aurora Prize from co-chair of the selection committee George Clooney, and prize co-founder Ruben Vardanyan

The first ever Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity was awarded to humanitarian Marguerite Barankitse during an inaugural ceremony in Yerevan, Armenia, on April 24. Barankitse was honored for saving and caring for thousands of orphans and refugees during the Burundi civil war in central Africa, as well as her current work with children and orphans affected by AIDS, war and poverty.

“Our values are human values,” said Barankitse. “When you have compassion, dignity and love then nothing can scare you, nothing can stop you—no one can stop love. Not armies, not hate, not persecution, not famine, nothing.”

Barankitse accepted the award at an event that drew 400 distinguished guests, including George Clooney, the Academy Award-winning actor who co-chaired the selection committee, and Vartan Gregorian, a member of the selection committee and president of Carnegie Corporation of New York. Clooney presented the prize saying, “Marguerite Barankitse serves as a reminder of the impact that one person can have even when encountering seemingly insurmountable persecution and injustice.”

Gregorian commented, “During the selection process for the Aurora Prize, we came across truly remarkable stories of the human spirit, and an extraordinary number of inspiring individuals who are out there making a significant difference. We are proud to be able to recognize Marguerite Barankitse and support the impactful work she is doing in a concrete way. She proves the tremendous impact one person can have on so many.”

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Aurora Prize co-founder Vartan Gregorian, selection committee co-chair George Clooney, and musician Charles Aznavour at the prize ceremony.

The Aurora Prize honors individuals who have made a significant impact on humanity.  Recipients are awarded $100,000 as well as $1,000,000 to distribute to charitable organizations of their choosing. The prize is sponsored by the philanthropic initiative 100 Lives, which was co-founded by business entrepreneurs Ruben Vardanyan and Noubar Afeyan, and Gregorian. It was established in 2015 to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and memorializes the 1.5 million lives lost by honoring individuals worldwide for their compassion, generosity, and humanitarian efforts.

The three runners-up each received a $25,000 award toward the support of the organizations that inspired their work. Barankitse plans to divide her $1,000,000 prize among the Fondation du Grand-Duc et de La Grande-Duchesse du Luxembourg, Fondation Jean-François Peterbroeck (JFP Foundation) and the Fondation Bridderlech Deelen Luxembourg; three organizations whose work aligns with her vision that orphans, child refugees, and children with AIDS deserve both dignity and a future. 

The ceremony was the culmination of a series of weekend events focused on humanitarian issues: performances by Armenia’s Ballet 2021 and by the State Youth Orchestra of Armenia; a reading by novelist and journalist David Ignatius; the presentation of the International Center for Journalists' Integrity in Journalism Award to Rukmini Callimachi of TheNew York Times; and the launch of a new Humanitarian Index that released results showing a “compassion gap” between public perception and the current reality of modern-day refugees. 

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Aurora Prize winner Marguerite Barankitse with Deana Arsenian, Carnegie Corporation of New York's Vice President of International Programs.

Clooney’s co-chair on the Aurora Prize selection committee is Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel. The panel includes Nobel Laureates Oscar Arias, Shirin Ebadi and Leymah Gbowee; former President of Ireland Mary Robinson; human rights activist Hina Jilani; former Australian Foreign Minister and President Emeritus of the International Crisis Group Gareth Evans; and Carnegie Corporation’s Gregorian.

The Aurora Prize will be awarded each year at the end of April as part of the 100 Lives initiative. The program uses personal accounts and academic research to tell the stories of the 1915 Armenian genocide, and express gratitude to those whose selfless acts helped Armenians survive.

Learn more about Marguerite Barankitse’s work at Maison Shalom.

Learn more about this year’s  Aurora Prize weekend, the mission of 100 Lives, and the challenges facing human rights as described the co-founders of the prize.