A campaigner known as the ‘Martin Luther King of the Middle East’, an entrepreneur tackling homelessness, and a Scottish actor helping children in war-torn countries, are all in the running for this year’s Robert Burns Humanitarian Award (RBHA).
The winner will be announced at Burns Cottage next week.
Part of the annual Burns an’ a’ that! Festival celebrations, the RBHA is supported by South Ayrshire Council and Scotland’s Winter Festivals.
This prestigious award recognises courage, commitment, inspiration and hands-on humanitarian efforts from people of any nationality, race, age or gender.
As the country gears up to celebrate Burns’ Night, Dr Izzeldein Abuelaish, Josh Littlejohn MBE, actor David Hayman and his colleague Patrick Rolink have all been shortlisted as finalists for the RBHA 2020.
Dr Izzeldein Abuelaish is a Palestinian medical doctor who has spent years promoting Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, despite Israeli forces killing his three daughters and their cousin. He views doctors as moral peacekeepers with a unique opportunity to bridge divides. In 2010 he wrote the book ‘I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey’ which has become an international best-seller. Dr Abuelaish’s humanitarian efforts, have led him to be known as the ‘Martin Luther King of the Middle East’.
Dr Abuelaish said: “I am honoured and inspired by the nomination and selection as a finalist for the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award. There are commonalities in life experiences that I share with Rabbie; where he grew up in poverty, hardship and struggled to survive. He was a man of soil and lived intensely. In spite of all of these challenges he was neither broken nor defeated. For me, Rabbie is not dead and will never die. He is alive in the hearts, minds and souls of humanity. He left a legacy and became a source of inspiration to people around the world.
Josh Littlejohn MBE is the co-founder of Social Bite, which was set up in 2012. Social Bite is a chain of sandwich/coffee shops that offer 100% of their profits to good causes. Each year, the Social Bite shops give more than 140,000 free items of healthy food to vulnerable people. Josh also established the Social Bite Fund which has helped provide accommodation to people affected by homelessness. In 2016, he received an MBE for services to social enterprise and entrepreneurship in Scotland.
Josh said: “Having just organised the World’s Big Sleepout, where 60,000 people slept out all over the world to raise funds and awareness to combat homelessness, I know first-hand the power of altruism, and I felt the humanitarian spirit generated by each of those 60,000 participants. Homelessness is an issue that affects almost every nation on earth and we need to come together to give these vulnerable people a hand up. To be recognised for a humanitarian award for my work in tackling homelessness in the name of our national icon Robert Burns is a real honour, and I am looking forward to the ceremony.”
Scottish actor David Hayman founded Spirit Aid in 2001, and in 2005 he was joined by comedian and after dinner speaker Patrick Rolink, who is now a director of the organisation. Spirit Aid is a humanitarian relief organisation, dedicated to alleviating the suffering of children and young people whose lives have been affected by poverty, neglect, abuse, lack of opportunity, humanitarian crisis or blighted by war. Spirit Aid currently has operations running in Scotland, Palestine, Afghanistan and Malawi.
David said: “I am absolutely thrilled to bits to be nominated for this award and particularly pleased that Patrick has also been nominated, he fully deserves it.
“I am a great lover of the works of Rabbie and have made two films on his life so it’s a very special feeling to have his name on an award that I am shortlisted for.”
Patrick said: “We are humbled to be nominated for such a prestigious award that has such credibility and substance.
“Through his incredible talent and passion for life, Robert Burns has shone a light on Scotland and its people.
“This award also shines a light on our wonderful caring and proactive nation where so many strive to create a fairer and just society in a natural and instinctive way.”
Douglas Campbell, Chair of the RBHA judging panel, and Leader of South Ayrshire Council, said: “This year’s finalists stand out from the crowd as they are helping to transform so many lives in this country and beyond.
“Judging the RBHA is never easy, and we had a record 133 nominations this year to make the decision even more difficult. We now have four outstanding individuals who epitomise the word ‘humanitarian’, and I am sure Robert Burns would be proud of their efforts.
“I am looking forward to the end of January when the winner will be revealed.”
The winner of the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award will be announced at the awards ceremony on Wednesday 22 January 2020, at Burns Cottage.
As well as the RBHA 2020 title, winners receive the equivalent of 1759 guineas (approximately £1,800) – a sum which signifies the year of the Bard’s birth and the coinage in circulation at that time.