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|Refugees International Honors Humanitarians
by Karin Tack-Czasu
A Middle Eastern royal handed a prestigious humanitarian award to a young member of a U.S. dynasty on May 10 at the Refugees International’s 33rd Anniversary Dinner, as a movie star, international diplomats, rights advocates and U.S. lawmakers looked on.
Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan, who is a board member of Refugees International and spends much of her time working on global aid and recovery issues, presented the McCall-Pierpaoli Humanitarian Award — named in memory of Penny and David McCall and Yvette Pierpaoli who died during a Refugees International mission to Albania in 1999 — to Lauren Bush Lauren, niece of former President George W. Bush and daughter-in-law of global fashion icon Ralph Lauren.
The award, which recognizes extraordinary leadership and commitment to humanitarian action, was presented to Bush Lauren for her role in fighting world hunger, which she said kills more people than illnesses like AIDS and tuberculosis combined. Bush Lauren co-founded and chairs the FEED Foundation, which supports programs and organizations working to fight hunger and eliminate malnutrition. She also co-founded FEED Projects, a charitable company that has raised more than $6 million for the World Food Program’s school meals program.
“Success in business is about doing good, not just doing well,” Queen Noor said in a short speech before she presented Bush Lauren with the award at a ceremony held in the Andrew W. Mellon auditorium near the National Mall.
Around 500 guests attended the dinner, including the ambassadors of a dozen countries, from Afghanistan to Switzerland; former U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees L. Craig Johnstone; and half a dozen U.S. lawmakers, including 16-term Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who was awarded the Congressional Leadership Award. Democratic Congressman Donald Payne, also of New Jersey, was posthumously given the same award. Both men were recognized for their work with the world’s most vulnerable and marginalized populations, including refugees.
A third award was presented to Colette Lespinasse, a seasoned journalist who founded the Haitian-based Support Group for Refugees and Returnees. Lespinasse was given the first-ever Richard Holbrooke Leadership Award, named after the U.S. diplomat who died suddenly in late 2010 and awarded to “unsung heroes of displacement crises.” The award was presented by Holbrooke’s widow, author Kati Marton, and her daughter Elizabeth Jennings, who hailed Lespinasse as “the voice of the voiceless and displaced” in Haiti.
Actor Matt Dillon was master of ceremonies — appropriate, said Marton, because his movie “There’s Something about Mary” was Holbrooke’s favorite. Dillon is one of many Hollywood celebrities who have lent their celebrity to causes — from George Clooney for South Sudan, to Ben Affleck for the Democratic Republic of Congo and Maria Bello for Haitian women.
At the start of the evening, Japan’s ambassador to Washington, Ichiro Fujisaki, announced that he will hand the reins of the honorary chairmanship of Refugees International to his Indonesian counterpart, Ambassador Dino Patti Djalal.
Fujisaki noted as he made the announcement that refugee and displaced persons crises are not just a problem for far-flung, developing nations. A year ago, Japan went through its own displaced persons’ crisis as people were forced from their homes by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in the northeast. And tens of thousands of Americans have had to leave everything behind and relocate after natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina. Many of the displaced in Japan and the United States still have not been able to return to their homes, an illustration, said Fujisaki, of how refugee issues hit closer to home than many in developed nations like to think.
Founded in 1979, Refugees International advocates for assistance and protection for the world’s 43.7 million refugees and internally displaced people, and 12 million stateless people who live without the usual rights accorded to citizens of a country. An independent organization, Refugees International does not receive government or United Nations funding.
From top to bottom photo:
From left, actor Matt Dillon, Lauren Bush Lauren and her husband David Lauren attend the Refugees International’s 33rd Anniversary Dinner at Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, where Bush Lauren was honored with the McCall-Pierpaoli Humanitarian Award for her role in fighting world hunger.
Queen Noor of Jordan, who is a board member of Refugees International, presented the McCall-Pierpaoli Humanitarian Award to Lauren Bush Lauren, niece of former President George W. Bush and co-founder of the FEED Foundation, which supports programs and organizations working to fight hunger and eliminate malnutrition.
Japanese Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki and his wife Yoriko deliver remarks at the Refugees International’s 33rd Anniversary Dinner.
From left, Lala Abdurahimova, the 2013 Refugees International Anniversary Dinner Honorary Chair, Dr. Rosa Ria Djalal, wife of the Indonesian ambassador, and RI Advocate Marc Hanson attend the Refugees International’s 33rd Anniversary Dinner.
Photos: Refugees International