An inspirational young woman who is working to empower and transform the lives of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been named winner of the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award 2017.
Marcelline Budza was named the winner at a special ceremony and celebration concert at the Brig o'Doon Hotel in Alloway – the birthplace of Burns.
Part of the annual Alloway 1759 celebrations, the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award – supported by South Ayrshire Council and Scotland's Winter Festivals – recognises courage, commitment, inspiration and hands-on humanitarian efforts from people of any nationality, race, age or gender.
Named in honour of the famous Scots Bard, the award, which has been running since 2002, applauds the efforts of people who bring hope and inspiration – often in desperate situations – and help change lives for the better.
It takes its inspiration from Robert Burns who viewed everyone as equal and lived as a true humanitarian, as recognised in his famous lines: 'That Man to Man, the world o'er, Shall brothers be for a' that'.
Marcelline – the 2017 Robert Burns Humanitarian Award winner – founded the women's coffee producing association Rebuild Women's Hope (RWH) in 2013. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the country considered the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman, she has helped many women regain their economic empowerment as coffee farmers.
Inspired by her mother's example of raising a young family on her own, Marcelline went to university before establishing RWH as a platform to combat the misconceptions about women, and help ensure other women could provide for their households, reach their potential and become economically active members of society.
The organisation works to create a spirit of entrepreneurship and self-management in women, in order to raise the standard of living in their communities and across their nation.
In 2015, RWH constructed its first coffee washing station on the Island of Idjwi and successfully exported their first container of coffee in 2016. Thanks to a generous grant from Strauss Coffees, the organisation will build its second washing station on the island of Idjwi this year.
Marcelline and RWH have already helped more than 1,000 women register as farmers and subsequently sell their coffee to Coffeelac SARL (the DRC's largest Arabica coffee export company) for international distribution through Falcon Coffees in the UK.
Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop said: "The Robert Burns Humanitarian Award recognises the selfless, vital work that is undertaken around the world every day of every year to help others. This award draws heavily on Robert Burn's own values and is an important celebration of selflessness and charity work, providing an inspiration to people across Scotland and beyond.
"I congratulate Marcelline Budza on winning this award and for her work to transform the lives of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Marcelline has helped many women regain their economic empowerment by establishing a women's coffee producing association. It shows that with the right motivation anyone can make a difference and help others at home and abroad."
Sara Mason, from Shift Social Impact Solutions, accepted the award on behalf of Marcelline. She said: "I have the privilege of working with Marcelline and Rebuild Women's Hope. Women in the DRC are amongst the poorest and least empowered individuals in the world. But because of people like Marcelline, there is still hope. With very limited opportunities, Marcelline has already managed to achieve extraordinary things because of her incredible intelligence, strength of spirit and faith."
Marcelline herself said: "A big thank you to the team who decided to award me this Robert Burns Humanitarian Award. For us all – and for me personally – the work we've done to receive this reward has been a rewarding, long term project. I thank all the members of our team for their effort in our work.
"Our goal is to promote each woman, and develop in her a spirit of entrepreneurship and self-care, to ensure she understands her rights and duties. Our mission is to make each woman capable of fighting in all ways for her independence in society. Because I know that building a woman's hope is building the hope of an entire nation."
The runners-up for the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award 2017 were:
Jo Cox – the former MP for Batley and Spen. Jo spent her entire life working to make a difference for others. She spent much of her career working in a variety of humanitarian roles before being elected as an MP. She worked to use her position for the good of everyone – and was well known for her support for refugees. Jo was killed on 16 June 2016. Millions have been raised in her name since then to ensure her good work continues.
Margaret Simpson MBE from the Scottish Borders. Margaret used her own experience to inspire the creation of Disabled Persons Housing Services (Borders) almost 20 years ago. DPHS provides a one-stop shop on all aspects of housing for people with a disability. She also created Scottish Borders Social Enterprise Chamber, which has helped people with disabilities gain employment. Margaret has worked tirelessly to highlight issues for people with disabilities, actively campaigning for improvements.
Bill McIntosh, Chair of the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award Judging Panel and Leader of South Ayrshire Council, said: "Once again, the judges had an extremely difficult job in selecting our finalists and winner; however, we were extremely impressed with the efforts of Marcelline, Jo and Margaret. These three women have made a difference for thousands of people across the world and took a stand to show that we should all have the same choices, freedoms and opportunities – an ethos which permeates the work of Robert Burns.
"As the judges recognised, this year's winner, Marcelline, is an ordinary person who has shown extraordinary courage in the face of unimaginable adversity. Her drive to deliver social change, empower women to take charge of their lives and take their rightful place at the heart of their society would have been a bold approach in many parts of the world – but particularly so in the country considered to be the most dangerous of all to be a woman.
"Her efforts to show just what women can do would have struck a chord with Burns who considered women as his equals – socially and intellectually – and will create a legacy for thousands of women and their families as well as provide a terrific example to people across the world. She has brought dignity, hope and a voice to many and is an inspirational and very worthy winner of the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award 2017."
Speaking of the runners-up, Councillor McIntosh added: "Jo Cox was a name that many of us would not have known before that tragic day in June last year when she was so brutally killed. However, Jo had spent her entire life standing up and fighting for those less fortunate than others and I know her family are very proud that she is a runner-up in the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award 2017. It was a pleasure to learn about the extensive humanitarian activities Jo had been involved in and a privilege to include her on this year's shortlist.
"Margaret Simpson took her own experience and turned that around to help transform the lives of many disabled people in the Scottish Borders, giving them their pride and dignity and ensuring they had a say in their own lives. Margaret is clearly passionate about standing up for others and has a hugely impressive track record of making a difference. She is a tireless advocate for disabled people and I'm sure she will continue to fight for what she believes in for many years to come."
Further information about the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award is available at www.robertburnsaward.com. Details of the year-round Burns an'a'that! Festival are at www.burnsfestival.com.
Short videos of each of the finalist's stories can be viewed here.