Ann Cotton, a British woman who is revolutionizing the lives of women in sub- Saharan Africa, has been awarded the 2013 Jesse & Helen Kalisher Humanitarian Award.
Ms. Cotton first visited Zimbabwe in 1991. She was so moved by what she saw that two years later she founded Camfed (Campaign for Female Education) with a bake sale that sent 32 girls to school. Today, in her 22nd year, more than 2,000,000 women can look back and thank Camfed for having helped them get a life-changing, if not life-saving education.
The first step in making a difference is to, “understand the reality, and the context of people’s lives." Ms. Cotton said. When asked what it takes to succeed in changing the lives of girls and others in Sub- Saharan Africa, Ms. Cotton observed, “you need to be absolutely dogged. You need to listen to the people experiencing the problems, and their ideas need to crowd out the words of the 'can't be done-ers'.”
According to the World Bank, in 2010, 48.5 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lived on $1.25 a day or less, a principal factor in causing widespread hunger and inequality. In this environment, work often supersedes education. Indeed, due to poverty, most parents choose to send only their sons to school, leaving as many as 24 million girls without access to an education at any given time.
A girl in this part of Africa may marry as young as 13, give birth to (on average) 5.2 children and has a one in 22 chance of dying in childbirth. One in six of her children will die before the age of five. In contrast, if that same girl receives an education she will a) earn up to 25% more and reinvest 90% in her family, b) be three times less likely to become HIV-positive and c) have fewer, healthier children who are 40% more likely to live past the age of five.
In light of these facts, the mission of Camfed and Ann Cotton couldn’t be more important. “A social entrepreneur,” Ms. Cotton has said, “is someone who witnesses the pain and struggle in the lives of others and is compelled to act and to alleviate them... The only failure lies in not trying, or giving up.”
Ms. Cotton has been recognized over the years with many awards including The Order of the British Empire and the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship. Her organization, CAMFED, has also received the International Development Charity of the Year Award for starting a significant change. Today, she received The Helen & Jesse Kalisher Humanitarian Award.
Four years ago, Mr. & Mrs. Kalisher created their Humanitarian Award to recognize someone who has done something miraculous for humanity and to reward them with the gift of art. “It's a small way for us to say thank you and to show our appreciation and respect for the tough choices that someone has made,” Mr. Kalisher said. “It’s our way of showing support and for being heard,” he added, pointing out that this year’s honoree, Ms. Cotton, has made significant and remarkable achievements, and in the face of great odds against her, in order to better the world in which we live.
In 2001 and 2002, Mr. & Mrs. Kalisher traveled through countries in the Middle East, India and sub- Saharan East Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar). “I was particularly struck by the lives of women in many of the countries we visited,” Mr. Kalisher said. “There’s a challenge in this part of the world in which women are second class citizens. It’s shocking that this is simply accepted by so many people around the world as the status quo.” Jesse and Helen left the area convinced that, long-term, they needed to find a way to help women get on equal footing.
“I am honored to accept this award,” Ms. Cotton said from her office in Cambridge, England. “Art matters – and artists are often the window to our values and priorities. I appreciate that Helen and Jesse, as artists, are engaged in the world and want to make a statement about the value and importance of educating girls and our work at Camfed.” Ms. Cotton added that she is going to ask the Kalishers about helping evolve the art curriculum for the Camfed program.
The Jesse & Helen Kalisher Humanitarian Award a gift of a limited edition, hand signed collector’s print of one of Mr. Kalisher’s photographs (www.jessekalisher.com) as well as a $1,000 donation to Camfed. Ms. Cotton selected “San Francisco Sunrise,” an image with particular meaning to Ms. Cotton. “I rode a bicycle over the Golden Gate Bridge once. Somehow I had not understood the scale of the bridge and I got severe vertigo! All I could do was try and concentrate on my feet, walking one step after the other to get to the other side alongside the bike. I guess this is metaphorical for the way I have had to conquer my fears at times in my work and just move forward, one step at a time.”
The previous recipients of the Jesse & Helen Kalisher Humanitarian Award have been Dr. Jeffrey Wigand who was instrumental in exposing lies and fraud within the American Tobacco Industry and Nobel Laureate, Leymah Gbowee who successfully led a peace movement in Liberia and Urmi Basu, a champion for at-risk girls and young women in Kolkata, India.