Published on: Thursday, October 22, 2009
Valerie Aggerbeck, University of St. Thomas School of Law Research Librarian has a special interest in the upcoming Opus Prize Awards ceremony on Nov. 4. Aggerbeck was part of the team that visited Morocco. Her thoughts from the trip are below.
Tickets are now available for the program that will honor three social entrepreneurs for their faith-based humanitarian work. One of the three will receive the $1 million Opus Prize, with $100,000 awards going to the other two.
The Opus Prize recognizes unsung heroes who create lasting social change and inspire others to do the same. They were selected through a process administered by St. Thomas. Dr. Charles Keffer, former provost at the university, is chairing a committee that began its work last year.
To read more about the 2009 Opus Prize, visit www.stthomas.edu/opusprize or www.opusprize.org .
Recognizing a life serving others
By: Valerie Aggerbeck, Research Librarian
This summer, I had the opportunity to visit a beautiful country and a truly inspirational woman for the Opus Prize Foundation. The Opus Prize Foundation is a private and independent Foundation that awards a $1 million prize annually to recognize an unsung hero of any faith tradition, anywhere in the world, solving today’s most persistent social problems. Two other finalists receive a $100,000 award. Each year, the Foundation partners with a Catholic university or college as a way to inspire lives of service. The three finalists for this year’s prize are Aicha Ech-Chenna, who provides services for unmarried women and their children in Casablanca, Morocco; Sister Valeriana García-Martín, who cares for disabled children in Bogota, Colombia; and Father Hans Stapel of Guaratinguetá, Brazil, who operates more than 60 communities for people with drug and alcohol addictions.
I accompanied foundation representatives on a due-diligence visit with Aicha’s organization: Association Solidarite Feminine. Association Solidarite Feminine fights against the abandonment of children out of wedlock and supports unwed mothers through an Education and Formation Program that provides counseling, practical training, child care and other services.
Meeting Aicha and the association’s beneficiaries was awe-inspiring in many ways. Aicha has incredible charisma. She simply needs to be present and you can sense something special about her. She seems larger than life both physically and mentally. She towers over most men and women and is not afraid to use her size to make her voice heard by her numerous opponents (including conservative clerics and the fathers and brothers of the teenage mothers she helps).
Listening to the stories of the young mothers in the association was both heartbreaking and uplifting. Most of them are teenagers that have either been cast out by their families or have fled their homes to be able to keep and raise their child. They are left with few resources and no social network. For them, Aicha’s association represents an oasis in the desert. It is a place where they can find comfort and food, they are treated with respect and dignity, and they are able to learn skills and concepts that will enable them to become productive members of Moroccan society.
Experiencing first-hand the work of the association was a privilege and has reinforced the importance of giving back. Aicha’s passion for her life’s work is evident. When you listen to her, you cannot help but want to get up and move mountains yourself.
The Opus Prize winner will be announced during a ceremony Nov. 4 at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. You can obtain free tickets for the public event at the St. Thomas Box Office, Orchestra Hall Box Office, www.minnesotaorchestra.org or (612) 371-5656. There will also be several opportunities for students, staff, and faculty to meet and talk with the finalists between Nov. 3 and Nov. 5. This is truly an event you should not miss!