I headed up to the UN yesterday for the Dag Hammarskjold Scholarship Fund for Journalists and Inspiration Award luncheon. As the event’s name would suggest, the lunch served two purposes. First, it honored four recipients of the aforementioned fellowship, which is a program of the UN Correspondents Association that funds reporting projects for four journalists from the developing world during a ten week stint at the UN. (The UN Foundation is a sponsor).
And wow, what an impressive group this was. It included a multiple-award winning journalist from the Philippines, who just happened to be at the UN when hurricanes rocked her island last month; a Ghanaian television reporter who spoke of his experience of being from a region where the UN is quite active; an Egyptian who extolled the virtues of free press as a liberalizing force; and an heroic journalist from Pakistan’s North-West Frontier province who recalled his harrowing experience of being kidnapped by the Taliban last year for reporting on their affronts to women in Peshawar.
Prior to presentations from the fellows, Ban Ki Moon explained the necessity of the media for the work of the UN but lamented the fact that western media voices tend to be over-represented at the UN. This fellowship, in its small but not insignificant way, is meant to correct that imbalance.
The event also honored the Academy Award wining actress and screenwriter Emma Thomspon for her work to combat human trafficking. Thompson, in turn, presented the Dag Hammarskjold Inspiration Award to the psychiatrist Helen Bamber, who created a foundation to treat victims of torture and human trafficking.
Bamber’s acceptance speech was easily the highlight of the day. She is a British woman over 80 years old, who stands no more than 4 feet 7 inches tall. In 1945 she was a psychologist with an army unit that liberated the Bergen-Belson concentration camp. She immediately attended to the emotional needs of the camps victims, even as they lay dying in front of her. It was that moment, she said, that inspired her to devote her life to caring for and treating victims of torture. At the age of 80, Berber started a foundation to care for the psychological needs of trafficked women. She was rightfully honored for her life’s dedication to attending to the psychological needs of the world’s most vulnerable people. I felt privileged to hear her story.