In an exciting twist to the final, Veronika Zonabend, impact investor and social entrepreneur, co-founder of RVVZ Family Foundation and Founding Partner and Chair of the Board of Governors of UWC Dilijan College in Armenia, announced that the team would receive a generous grant of $5,000 – even higher than the $4,000 award originally intended for the 2021 Young Aurora. “One of the purposes of Aurora is to encourage young people and to create a new role model for the young generation. [Aurora] discovers and also rewards the real heroes of our world who do something very important for other people, despite very difficult circumstances and despite the atrocities happening around them, and they continue to do what they started, and they believe that they can win and that the good things they do for others will make a positive impact,” said Veronika Zonabend.
Presented by the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative in partnership with UWC International, Teach For All and the African Leadership Academy, Young Aurora was launched in 2017 to encourage, support and showcase student-driven projects which address concrete humanitarian issues with innovative and sustainable solutions. It was wonderful to see, in this fifth year, how strongly this mission is being carried forward by the students presenting their projects and the many audience members from across the world who came out to support them, from leading thinkers in the world of education and social entrepreneurship, to the classmates and teachers of the presenting teams.
Hosted online for the second year running due to ongoing COVID-19 travel restrictions, the event began with an emotional and inspiring look back at the last five years of Young Aurora, featuring many familiar faces from past finalist teams who came together once more to wish Young Aurora a very happy fifth birthday.
The humanitarian issues the students chose to tackle this year covered three areas that are currently at the forefront of many of our minds: mental health, the environment, and education and refugee support. UWC Atlantic proposed a solution to tackle the first issue with their plans to expand the peer listening network that has proven to be a success at their school to neighboring schools in their local area. For UWC East Africa, the focus was on tackling the issue of soil erosion and deforestation in their local school area through the distribution of seed bombs and the provision of a rainwater collecting system. Last but not least, the WK UWCSA team presented their solution to empower young people at the Malindza refugee camp by creating a youth hub that serves as an online education center and social space.
Considering the breadth and importance of these issues, we were fortunate to rely on a distinguished Selection Jury to choose the final winner. This jury included:
- Mirza Dinnayi, Yazidi Activist, Co-Founder and Director of Air Bridge Iraq and 2019 Aurora Prize Laureate;
- Syeda Ghulam Fatima, Human and Labor Rights Activist, General Secretary of Bonded Labor Liberation Front Pakistan (BLLF) and 2016 Aurora Humanitarian;
- Maria Ines Kavamura, UWC International Board member;
- John Prendergast, Human Rights Activist, Co-Founder of The Sentry and Aurora Prize Selection Committee Member;
- Alice Petrossian, UWC Dilijan Full Board Member and Education Consultant.
The jury carefully considered each project, asked follow up questions to each of the teams and then had time to themselves to make the difficult but important decision of which team should become the winner of the 2021 Young Aurora. While the jury deliberated over their final decision, the rest of the audience took part in a discussion on the theme for this year’s event: “Why We Need All Kinds of Minds.” To help explore this topic, moderator Jaime Nieman, Global Politics Teacher and passionate educator, was joined by panelists Dr Musimbi Kanyoro, Chair of the UWC International Board, and Zac Merida, 2021 UWC Dilijan alumnus and Dare to Dream scholar.
Closing the event on a note of optimism and gratitude, speakers bid farewell in the hope that next year they would be able to meet again in Yerevan to celebrate the sixth annual Young Aurora.
For the Waterford Kamhlaba UWCSA team, it has been a particularly challenging time in eSwatini with the ongoing civil unrest. In the words of team member Prince who himself was forced to flee the Democratic Republic of Congo as a refugee in 2017: “I’m speechless about this great news. We put so much work into this project. This gives us the hope that we can be changemakers and that our voices can be heard. I’m super excited. Thank you so much to the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative helping us to be changemakers. Thank you and congratulations to the other teams, you are all changemakers. The world is out there for you and for us to change.”
The Aurora Humanitarian Initiative is looking forward to seeing the Seed of Hope project grow and develop and to witnessing the impact it will go on to have at the Malindza refugee camp.