Aïcha Ech Channa, founder and president of a Casablanca, Morocco, organization that provides services to unmarried women with children, is the winner of the $1 million 2009 Opus Prize.
The University of St. Thomas and the Opus Prize Foundation conferred the award Wednesday night at an event in Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. The other two finalists – Sister Valeriana García-Martín of Bogotá, Colombia, and Father Hans Stapel of Guaratinguetá, Brazil – each received $100,000 awards.
The honorees will use the prizes from the foundation to further their faith-based, humanitarian efforts. The recipients are unsung heroes who address problems with a commitment to service and social entrepreneurship.
Ech Channa founded Association Solidarité Féminine in 1985 to help unmarried women with children gain the knowledge and skills necessary to ensure their own livelihoods. More than 50 women receive training every year in literacy, human rights, cooking, baking, sewing, fitness services and accounting. Participants also receive daily child care, medical treatments, counseling, and social, psychological and legal support.
The Opus Prize is given annually to recognize unsung heroes solving today’s most persistent social problems. Their work must embody Opus Prize principles, including social entrepreneurship, transformational leadership, evidence of how faith makes changes in the world, and an ability to teach people how to fish (adhering to the adage, "Give a person a fish, you have fed him for a day. Teach a person to fish, you have fed him for a lifetime.").
"The Opus Prize recognizes individuals whose work and story can inspire us to tackle the world¹s most deeply rooted problems," said Amy Sunderland, executive director of the Opus Prize Foundation. "These finalists demonstrate what faith, will and vision can do to make our world a better place. They show us change is possible."
While the foundation has worked in partnership with Catholic universities since 2004 to make the award, the recipient may have roots in any faith.
The honorees participated Thursday in luncheon discussions with students, faculty and staff on St. Thomas’ St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses to highlight the congruence between their work and the university’s mission.
"St. Thomas has been honored to serve as a partner to award the Opus Prize," said Father Dennis Dease, president. "We have been proud to host the winners on our campus, and I know they have been a real inspiration to our students, faculty, staff and the larger community."