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A Public Challenge: Find Humanity in the Inhumane

Ruben Vardanyan Aurora Humanitarian Initiative

Date: 07.07.2015

Source: The Huffington Post

John Prendergast, Founding Director, Enough Project

Ruben Vardanyan, Philanthropist, Businessman, Co-founder, 100 LIVES

Nearly seven million people in the Sudan desperately need humanitarian assistance, facing a daily threat in some areas of bombing, rape and pillage by their government. The United Nations has condemned the Eritrean government for the gross human rights violations that have caused hundreds of thousands to flee the country. In Syria, nearly half the population is either internally displaced or has fled the country. Iraq, Syria’s neighbor, is no safe haven; there, ISIS systematically terrorizes and kills en masse on a daily basis.

These tragedies endanger the future course of humanity even as they devastate millions of individual lives. That governments continue to commit atrocities against the people they are mandated to protect is a political reality. When such crimes against humanity are blocked or thwarted, it is because of individuals who are not afraid to do what’s right, even at the worst of times. It is this story of indescribable and unexpected bravery that is waiting to be told. By sharing heroes’ stories, we honor them, and through them, promote faith in the power of good. When defiant, selfless individuals ignore their own safety and overcome their fears, they enable others to survive and thrive.

We see this happening in every time and place. Amid the rubble of the Nepal earthquake, a teenager helped rescue 55 children from the orphanage where he grew up. A British nurse who contracted Ebola – and was lucky to survive – returned to the front lines in Sierra Leone as quickly as his medical team would allow, noting he was “impatient” to continue helping the people of West Africa. There are many Darfurians on the frontlines of the 21st century's first genocide who continue to risk their lives to protect or defend their neighbors.

And a century ago, amid the carnage that was the Genocide of 1.5 million Armenians, a Norwegian missionary sheltered Armenian children even after her orphanage was set on fire; instead of fleeing to save herself, she remained and singlehandedly saved hundreds of women and children. Her century-old story has deep meaning even today. The children she saved are grandparents today, and remain grateful to the unknown woman who gave them life.

An Armenian named Nurel Beylerian also remembers his family's past with gratitude. His father, a soldier in the Turkish army in 1915, was able to tip off his family in advance to impending danger. Nurel’s father didn’t just save his own family, however. When a train carrying Armenian exiles came through, he risked his own life by opening an escape hatch to help them to flee – and the Turkish sergeant who was his superior didn’t punish him for it. Nurel, too, is grateful: “Even today, I often think of this Turkish sergeant. He saved many people who would not have made it otherwise. We need to tell his story, and the stories of people like him.”

Our organization, 100 LIVES, was created for this purpose. We need to hear more of these stories, and we need to recognize and foster more heroes. They give hope and life. They are a reminder that anyone can take tangible action to help heal human suffering.

To honor and thank those who do act in the face of unnatural danger, and as a public challenge to identify and share such stories of humanity that is awake, aware and accountable, in March, we launched the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity. This new global award will be given annually to an individual or group who has faced extreme adversity, yet persevered because others’ lives were in peril.

The winner will be honored with a US $100,000 award, as well as a US$1,000,000 grant to a charitable organization that inspired their work. This is consistent with the spirit of the Aurora Prize and encourages the cycle of giving. Thus this prize is about both past and future – honoring individual instances of outstanding sacrifice and action while supporting ongoing dedication by nurturing communities of humanitarians. The Prize becomes a pathway to fund future acts of determination, courage and compassionate humanity.

Help find and honor the hidden stories of exceptional bravery that have altered lives and certainly, the course of history, for a few or for the many.