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  Sunday, November 1 2:46pm PST

Saatchi & Saatchi
Honoring the Changemakers
Emotional awards ceremony at State of the World Forum

Vicente Fox, Khadiji Haq, Hafsat Abiola, Marian Wright Edelman
Popular Nigerian pro-democracy activist Hafsat Abiola and controversial U.N. arms inspector Richard Butler were among recipients of State of the World Forum Awards at San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel last night (Oct 31).

Five awards, granted to recognize recipients' work to advance the world, were presented in total. The award took the shape of a bronze hand sculptured by Australian artist Andrew Roger.

Mahbub ul Haq, who died in July, won a posthumous award for establishing Pakistan's Human Development Center, which oversees the well being of Pakistani people. His widow, Khadija Haq, received the award on his behalf. She told the audience that her husband believed a nation's prosperity should be measured by the prosperity and growth of the people, and not just by its gross domestic product.

Mr. Butler, executive chairman of the U.N. special commission (UNSCOM) charged with ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, received his award for his work against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Although he had been called away to New York for a Security Council meeting after Iraq ceased co-operation with U.N. weapons inspectors, a short ceremony was held in his honor early yesterday morning, and a video of the ceremony was screened.

Vicente Fox, the governor of Guanajuato in Mexico and a candidate in the next presidential elections, won his award in part for establishing a micro-loans system based on Bangladesh's Grameen Bank program. This enabled very poor people to get loans when they had been turned down by mainstream financial institutions.

Marian Wright Edelman set up the Children's Defense Fund to "fight the monsters that are real to children" - those of violence and abuse. She said it was absolutely tragic that since 1969, 3,600 people had lost their lives due to violence in Northern Ireland. But she added that 4,600 children in the United States died every year due to gun violence. Since 1990, 37, 000 children had been shot down.

But the winner who seemed to tug most at the sensibilities of the State of the World Forum audience was the 24-year-old Nigerian, Hafsat Abiola. Both of Ms. Abiola's parents lost their lives fighting to bring democracy back to their country. Her father Moshood was arrested in 1993 after he won the presidential elections that year. He died in prison earlier this year, the day before he was due to be released. His wife Kudirat was assassinated in Lagos in 1996, after campaigning for democracy and the release of her husband.

Hafsat Abiola, who is Harvard educated, has been involved in human rights since her early years, and has set up the Kudirat Institute for Nigerian democracy.

Remembering their lost loved ones - Hafsat Abiola and Khadiji Haq.
After she received her award, Ms. Abiola told the audience how her father refused to give up the mandate of the people, even though imprisoned. He had wanted to continue to fight to bring dignity back to his people who were "brought so low by poverty."

Speaking without notes, she told an entranced audience that she hadn't seen her father since January 1995. She had been told he was being well treated, but after he died she found out he had been kept in a cell without mosquito protection. He was constantly sick with malaria and his bedsheets had not been changed in the four years he was imprisoned.

"And it was when I read what they had done that I was cognizant that there is cruelty in this world. And it was then that I knew I had to honor this man.

"It is not my intention to go into public politics necessarily. It is my intention though to make sure that women, youths, and men whose voices are not heard, will be organized in such a way that they can be heard. It is my intention to ensure that the common man knows what a difference he can make. Oh yes, it may be true that the state is an elephant, but if enough ants bite it, it will feel the difference. And it is my intention to make sure that even though we are seeking to empower the common people of Nigeria, that those people when they gain power will not reflect the cruelty they have seen …that they will be loving and kind.

"I don't know if I'll succeed, but it's my true belief that if I don't do it I will have done some damage to myself, to my world that has served me and my family so well."

Her speech was greeted with a standing ovation.


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