A British woman who has transformed millions of lives in India was named winner of the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award (RBHA) 2018 last night (24 January) at a special ceremony hosted by South Ayrshire Council in the very house where the Scots Bard was born 259 years ago.
Anna Ferrer – who was born in Essex and has worked in India since the mid-1960s – was recognised for her decades of dedication and devotion to women's rights and tackling poverty in her adopted homeland.
Her fight for equality was considered by award judges to echo Burn's well-known saying, "a man's a man for a' that, which is based on the premise that we all deserve the same opportunities and same chances in life as everyone else. Judges were struck by her unwavering commitment to improving people's lives and the far-reaching impact she has had. They also praised her efforts to ensure her organisation stayed relevant by evolving to meet new needs.
Along with her husband, Vicente, Anna set up the Rural Development Trust (RDT) – with a particular focus on women's rights – in 1969. Focusing on the promotion, and provision, of education, health and homes, RDT now impacts the lives of 3.6 million people in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
Over almost 50 years, RDT has established four major hospitals, six rural clinics, two mobile clinics and other special-care centres that administer treatment for basic to advanced ailments and infectious diseases. It has also launched its own supplementary schools, built housing and accommodation, and created access to water – all of which has transformed lives.
Chair of the RBHA Judging Panel, South Ayrshire Council Leader Douglas Campbell, said: "We were all blown away by Anna's story, which is really remarkable. At a very young age, she travelled thousands of miles overseas and found her purpose in life, which was all about helping others. It's a purpose that has stayed with her for almost 50 years and absolutely resonates with Robert Burns' humanitarian values.
"It was an honour and a privilege to share in her story and to say thank you and show our appreciation for all that she has done."
Dr Alasdair Allan, Minister for International Development and Europe, said: "The Robert Burns Humanitarian Awards are a fitting to tribute to our great poet, recognising people who go the extra mile to help others - sometimes overcoming significant obstacles along the way. I would like to congratulate this year's winner, Anna Ferrer, whose work has made a tremendous difference to people's lives in India. Indeed, all of the finalists should be extremely proud of what they've done, and their stories act as an inspiration to others."
Anna's award was accepted on her behalf by Dr Raj Koppada from the UK-based charity, Friends of Rural Development Trust. Speaking from India, Anna said: "This award comes as a wonderful surprise. I really admire the efforts of my fellow finalists and I did not expect to win. It's a great recognition that the eradication of extreme poverty is not a dream but a reality, and that with commitment, constancy and belief in people, nothing is impossible.
"I accept this award in the name of all our team and people – men, women and children – who have fought bravely and peacefully to come out of extreme poverty and bondage. I also acknowledge the great motivation of my late husband, Vincent Ferrer, who convinced us that people's dreams of a better future were achievable. My thanks to all."
Anna intends to use the RBHA prize money – the equivalent of 1759 guineas, approximately £1,800, which signifies the year of the Bard's birth and the coinage then in circulation – for RDT's Women and Girls Shelter Home. This supports women and girls – many as young as 14 and 16 years old – who are pregnant and abandoned, escaping failed early marriages or victims of sexual assault. The Robert Burns Humanitarian Award will help support them to start new lives.
Also recognised at the unique award ceremony were RBHA finalists and runners-up, Sandra Brown OBE and 12-year-old Mason Kidd – the youngest ever Robert Burns Humanitarian Award finalist.
Sandra – founder of the Moira Anderson Foundation – was recognised for her bravery and courage of conviction to put others first, right the wrongs of the past and to become not only a beacon of hope, but a means of practical support, to those who have experienced horrific abuse so that they can enjoy a positive future. Speaking at the award ceremony, she said it had been a memorable evening especially as Burns' own words had kept her going at times when speaking out against great injustice or speaking out about things people don't want to hear: 'There's nane ever fear'd that the truth should be heard, But they whom the truth would indite'.
Mason was recognised for a wide variety of small acts of what he calls 'Kidd kindness' as well as impressive fundraising efforts to honour his brother's memory. His selflessness and generosity of spirit has had a ripple effect and left smiles on faces everywhere he went.
Speaking at the award ceremony, Mason said he just wanted to make everyone smile and was excited that he had been able to do that at the award ceremony.
Douglas Campbell concluded: "Anna, Sandra and Mason are great humanitarians and make us all want to be better people. Their experiences and efforts are truly humbling a perfect tribute to the Bard as we celebrate his birthday and the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award 2018."
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.