April 14, 2016 (Washington) AAIF is pleased to announce the 2016 Kahlil Gibran “Spirit of Humanity” Awards honorees:
UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency – The Award for International Commitment
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is the world’s leader in responding to the humanitarian devastation resulting from armed conflict. What started 65 years ago in response to the magnitude of displacement caused by the second World War, has grown out of necessity into an operation with over 9,300 staff members in 125 countries across the world. Their work takes place in the world’s most violent and politically sensitive conflicts. UNHCR works to reach the far-flung and isolated victims of war regardless of race, religion, or nationality. In the Middle East alone, UNHCR provides support to 17,531,604 asylum seekers, registered refugees, and internally displaced peoples. Since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict in 2011, UNHCR has once again responded to the urgent call to aid victims of war; they are now caring for over 4.8 million registered Syrian refugees primarily in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. Despite risks to their own staff’s safety, UNHCR is still working in Syria to provide critical services to the starving, injured, and impoverished civilians. Not only does UNHCR meet the urgent needs of refugees by providing temporary shelter, food, and healthcare, they also run the global resettlement program to screen and recommend refugees for resettlement in foreign countries, including the United States. In recognition of UNHCR’s unparalleled programs, they have been awarded two Nobel Peace Prizes, one in 1954 and one in 1981.
“UNHCR is proud to accept the Kahlil Gibran Award for International Commitment. As we respond to the most significant global challenge we’ve faced since World War II, it is critically important to keep the voices of those we serve, the millions who’ve been displaced by conflict, at the forefront. What they expect, and what they deserve is safety, dignity and a future. And it is our mission, as the UN’s Refugee Agency, to provide it in these trying times. For acknowledging the significance of this work, we thank AAIF.” - Kelly T. Clements, Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees at UNHCR
“With the refugee crisis at its highest level in half a century, the Arab American Institute Foundation believes we all must do whatever possible to support, elevate and acknowledge the work of those empowering the world’s most vulnerable populations. That is why we’ve chosen UNHCR as the recipient of our 18th annual Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Award for International Commitment. No organization is doing more at this critical moment and no organization is more deserving of recognition.” – Maya Berry, AAIF Executive Director
Alek Wek – Supermodel, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador
Supermodel and former refugee Alek Wek will present the Gibran Award to UNHCR. Wek, who was forced to flee South Sudan as a child, knows the refugee struggle first-hand. The seventh of nine children, she remembers crossing a river on a makeshift raft, hiding in abandoned homes to shelter from the violence and the hunger and fear that comes with walking endlessly in search of safety. After eventually settling in the UK, Wek was discovered in a London park by a modeling agent and became a trailblazer in the fashion industry. Wek has sought to use her platform to advance the concerns of refugees, especially women and children as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador.
“My story is proof that refugees are all around us. What they want, is what anyone wants, health; education; jobs and a future for their families,” said Wek. “At this critical time, when so many millions are struggling for survival, the work of UNHCR has never been more important and more rightly recognized than now. I am proud to be a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR and I am proud to celebrate and honor their vital work to support and protect the millions who have been forced to flee their homes.”
Unite Lebanon Youth Project - Award for Institutional Excellence
The Unite Lebanon Youth Project (ULYP) has distinguished itself with its superior programming and services which are creating a better, more unified, Lebanon. In the five short years since its founding, and in the midst of a flood of incoming refugees from neighboring Syria, ULYP has reached thousands of vulnerable youth with high quality educational programs and remarkable opportunities for success that were previously unimaginable for low income children. Its tranquil campus outside of Beirut is a one-of-a-kind space for the underserved youth of Lebanon – including Palestinian and Syrian refugees as well as impoverished Lebanese – to befriend one another and believe that success is possible even in the midst of physical, financial, and mental insecurity. ULYP’s programs meet the many diverse needs of students yearning for and capable of success – from preschool through high school and on to college. Indeed, one of their most impactful programs is their provision of scholarships for Palestinian youth who may otherwise have never had the chance to pursue their education.
“Gibran’s message of inclusion and triumph is one that ULYP, United Lebanon Youth Project, fully embraces in all our programs. Indeed, in these challenging times for Lebanon and our region, education is the key for inclusion and truly the only viable way forward. We are proud to be acknowledged for our work with the Gibran Award for Institutional Excellence.” - Melek El Nimr, ULYP Founder
“The work of this small but mighty organization has propelled a paradigm shift away from historical divisions along religious, political, socio-economic, and ethnic fault lines towards a vision for the country that embraces unity in a shared struggle for a better future. Their success stories are changing the way youth see themselves and each other, and in so doing, ULYP is redefining the future of Lebanon. We are pleased to recognize the Unite Lebanon Youth Project with the 2016 Award for Institutional Excellence.” – Maya Berry, AAIF Executive Director
Martin O’Malley - former Governor of Maryland, 2016 presidential candidate
Former Governor Martin O’Malley will present the Gibran Award to ULYP. O’Malley was one of the early political voices to stand up for the human rights of refugees and migrants seeking safety. He has repeatedly called on the U.S. to not only do more but to take in greater numbers.
“Kahlil Gibran’s central message to us all was love of humanity and Governor O’Malley’s leadership and outspoken support for refugees in a difficult climate pays tribute to that message.” – Maya Berry, AAIF Executive Director
Jamie Farr - Special Recognition
Jamie Farr is a distinguished Arab American actor and philanthropist most remembered for his endearing portrayal of Corporal Maxwell Klinger in the hit series M*A*S*H*. Over the course of M*A*S*H*’s critically acclaimed 11-year run, Mr. Farr brought to life the humorous, deeply compelling story of a lovable Lebanese serviceman from Toledo, Ohio. Like his character, Mr. Farr was born to Lebanese parents in Toledo. His portrayal of Klinger was one of the earliest positive, three-dimensional depictions of an Arab American in the media, which made many in our community proud. In addition to his on-screen accomplishments, Mr. Farr has a distinguished history of giving back to his Toledo community. Mr. Farr runs a scholarship fund to support Toledo’s youth, and for 28 years he organized the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic golf tournament to benefit dozens of children’s charities across Ohio and Michigan.
“Advancing Kahlil Gibran’s ideals of diversity, acceptance, and unity, Mr. Farr’s sense of humor and dedication to public service has brought laughter and warmth into the households of millions of Americans. We are proud to present Mr. Farr with this Special Recognition.” – Maya Berry, AAIF Executive Director
“I’ve been lucky to turn my passion, acting, into a career and to be welcomed into living rooms around the world. Comedy, when done well, not only makes us smile, it brings us comfort, breaks down stereotypes and joins us together. Thank you, to the Arab American Institute Foundation for this recognition. I just hope I made you laugh, left you a little lighter and maybe taught you something in the process.” - Jamie Farr, actor and activist
Hon. Suzanne Sareini - Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service
Suzanne Sareini’s history of public service marks a milestone in the march towards political empowerment for the Arab American community. A lifetime Dearborn resident and local business owner, Ms. Sareini’s 1989 campaign for City Council came on the heels of Dearborn’s first public confrontation with simmering anti-Arab sentiment that challenged the Arab American community’s place in Michigan. The multi-ethnic support Ms. Sareini won on the campaign trail was a powerful refutation of attempts to sideline and cast suspicion on our community. Because of Ms. Sareini’s tireless dedication to the community and indefatigable spirit, she went on to be reelected for six straight terms. The first ever Arab American elected to public office in the city of Dearborn, Michigan – Ms. Sareini represented her constituents with determination, boldness, bipartisanship, and an ear to the city’s many voices and needs.
"Serving at the local level directly impacts the lives of those you serve in so many ways each and every day. As the first Arab American elected to serve on the Dearborn City Council, it was not always easy. I faced much scrutiny and apprehension at times. I am proud to say that I was able to represent the Arab American Community with dignity and respect while doing what I loved for so many years. I am honored to accept the Gibran Award for Public Service from the Arab American Institute Foundation.” - Suzanne Sareini
“For over 25 years, her commitment to the empowerment of the Arab American community has paved the way for many others across the country to run for office, while her commitment to her constituents has demonstrated the true spirit of public service. It is because of this and much more that we are honored to award Ms. Sareini with the 2016 Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service.” – Maya Berry, AAIF Executive Director
Bringing focus to the challenges Syria’s refugees face, violin virtuoso, Mariela Shaker, will perform at the gala. Shaker fled her native Aleppo in 2013 to continue her music studies in the U.S. Recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change, she regularly confronts the negative rhetoric around the refugee situation by reminding her audiences of the very real humanitarian crisis facing millions of Syrians. Although she’s been granted asylum, she still has family in Aleppo who she communicates with regularly. Never forgetting her connections and journey, it’s her dream to open a music school for Syrian refugee children.
“Putting the focus on the global refugee crisis has never been more critical. Anytime I can share my love of music while promoting a better understanding of who refugees are and what they can contribute to the world, I will gladly step forward. That is why I am proud to participate in this 18th annual Gibran Awards to help shine a light on those assisting refugees on the front lines.” Mariela Shaker, Syrian violin virtuoso
The Gibran Awards launched in 1999 to recognize individuals, corporations, organizations and communities whose work, commitment and support make a difference in promoting coexistence and inclusion in all walks of life. The awards are named for the author of The Prophet, whose message of human endurance and triumph was so evident in his life and work. The gala is an annual black-tie event that has become the most prestigious Arab American event in Washington, bringing together more than 500 attendees.
Past participants include former President Bill Clinton, Her Majesty Queen Noor al-Hussein, actress Selma Heyak, former President of Poland Lech Walesa, former Sen. George Mitchell, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former professional boxer Muhammad Ali, and recording star Sting.
AAIF’s goal is to encourage, recognize, and celebrate Arab American participation in American civic life, and to cultivate and mobilize a strong, educated, empowered Arab American community that can play a meaningful role in developing and improving U.S. policies. A not-for-profit affiliate of the Arab American Institute (AAI), the Foundation supports programs that promote greater awareness of Arab Americans in the United States, demographic research and international outreach. The AAIF serves as the primary national resource on the Arab American experience for the media, academia, government agencies and the private sector.
WHAT: 18th annual Kahlil Gibran “Spirit of Humanity” Awards gala
WHEN: Tuesday, April 19, 2016, Reception 5:30 p.m./Gala dinner6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Omni Shoreham Hotel, 2500 Calvert St, NW, Washington, D.C.
WHO: Members of Congress, Arab American community members, current and former public officials, the diplomatic corps, and the business community in addition to those noted above.