An Italian surgeon and an Afghan educator who consistently contributed to a sustainable and enduring international peace were named Tuesday as co-recipients of the 2nd annual Sunhak Peace Price — an international award that includes a cash award of $1 million.
Dr. Gino Strada, who has provided medical and surgical care in 17 African and Middle Eastern nations for a quarter-century, and Sakena Yacoobi, who established multiple refugee-educational programs against considerable odds in Afghanistan, share the award, which has been likened to the Nobel Peace Prize.
The pair had much competition, vying for the honor with 225 other nominees in 76 countries.
“As we face the largest number of displaced persons on a global scale since World War II, we must put forth transnational efforts for the common benefit of all mankind. It is with this critical situation in mind that the Sunhak Prize Committee has focused on the global refugee crisis,” said Il-sik Hong, former president of Korea University and chairman of the Seoul-based prize selection committee, upon announcing the two winners.
Both are innovative, determined stalwarts who led hands-on efforts in the field, often in harm’s way themselves. Both have produced quantifiable results and cultural changes through their work.
Dr. Strada established more than 60 medical and surgical facilities that continue to tend some 8 million vulnerable refugees facing such life-threatening dangers as landmines and constant wartime disruption.
“Gino Strada sees the right to be cured as a basic and inalienable human right. He is raising the bar, striving to provide high-quality medical treatment free of charge to the world’s poorest,” Mr. Hong said, noting that the physician also exacted agreements from 11 African nations to provide free health care for the afflicted.
“In addition, he built a world-class center for cardiac surgery in the middle of the African desert. With steadfast resolve, he is building a movement to oppose conflict and violence, based on a moral and political point of view that war cannot be justified, no matter what the reason,” Mr. Hong said.
Ms. Yacoobi has come to be known as “the mother of refugee education,” methodically establishing a network of innovative educational centers in Afghanistan. A special emphasis on girls and women includes legal counseling and practical health information that has significantly reduced infant mortality and improved maternal safety during both pregnancy and childbirth.
Her efforts have produced a stunning outreach and measurable success.
“Convinced that education is the only sustainable solution for the future of refugees, Sakena Yacoobi established the Afghan Institute for Learning in 1995, and for 21 years has provided educational and vocational training to over 13 million refugees,” Mr. Hong said.
“She has greatly improved the rights and social status of women in Islamic society. Even under the Taliban regime that strictly prohibited women from receiving education, she operated 80 underground schools at the risk of her own life, and managed to educate 3,000 girls,” he noted.
Dr. Strada and Ms. Yacoobi will be honored at a formal ceremony in Seoul on Feb. 3.
“In these troubled times, the willingness to cooperate among nations is being tested,” Mr. Hong said, adding, “Searching for the heroes of today was like searching for a steady ray of light in pitch darkness. The broad vision and change in our behavior advocated by the Sunhak Peace Prize will serve as a beacon of hope revealing the path to the 21st century civilization of peace.”
The award itself was established by Hak Ja Han Moon, wife of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who founded The Washington Times in 1982. The prize is intended to recognize and support those who have a calling to alleviate suffering, poverty and other challenges with muscle and conviction.
“Sustainable peace in the 21st century can only be accomplished by resolving the tensions and conflicts throughout the world, and by developing a global culture of mutual respect and cooperation,” the couple note in a “peace vision” rationale that emphasizes the concept of universal family and the importance of future generations.
“The Sunhak Peace Prize encourages all people to dedicate themselves to peace, choosing dialogue and cooperation over conflict and competition,” the rationale states, also noting that the prize is intended to foster a “sustainable culture of peace” that transcends national borders and ideologies.