A Helen Prize for those 'bolder women'

by Catherine Solyom

Women from far and near were celebrated last week for their humanitarian efforts at the third annual International Helen Prize awards.

Helen PrizeNamed after Dr. Helen Caldicott, founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility and author of the widely acclaimed anti-nuclear film If You Love this Planet, the Helen Prize was established to pay tribute to the accomplishments of women around the world on International Women's Day, March 8.

"It is a prize which honours all the known and unknown Helens," said Montreal writer and Helen Prize founding president Akhtar Naraghi. "Women who, on centre stage or in some obscure corner, have given of themselves to create, defend and enhance the beauty and value of life."

In her opening statements to about 115 people at the downtown Faculty Club, Dr. Naraghi spoke of how this prize for "bolder women" has grown big and strong since she first conceived of it in 1987. "Now she carries me. The Helen Prize is you; it is all of us. There are no losers. We are all winners."

This year's ceremony honoured all 23 nominees, ranging from grassroots activists to university women, divided into national and international categories.

The award of distinction went to Gretta Chambers, founding president of the YWCA in Montreal and the first female university chancellor at McGill and in Quebec. Chambers told the mainly female crowd how difficult it was to translate chancellor into French. The obvious choice, chanceli¸re, she said, either meant "chancellor's wife" or "a stuffed box or bag used to warm one's feet."

Since then, she said, women's roles have changed a lot, thanks in part to the establishment of women's studies programs and organizations such as Concordia's Simone de Beauvoir Institute and the Helen Prize, which is administered by a separate board. They served to broaden the social model put forth in universities by white, "mostly dead" European men.

"There is another voice that is part of humanity," said Chambers, who is a member of both the Order of Canada and the Order of Quebec, "and until we get that voice to speak and debate, we won't have a whole social model."

The Helen Prize also awarded a cash prize of $500 to one of the nominees in each category, whose names were drawn out of a hat. This year's cash prize in the national category went to Carol Lupovitch and Judy Stevens, co-founders of the Share the Warmth Foundation in Montreal.

Ten years ago they started collecting clothing for the homeless and organized a food bank for seniors and shut-ins. Now their food bank in Point St. Charles feeds 2,000 needy people a month. They run a separate program through the schools to feed undernourished children and plan to open a teen centre soon to provide a place for kids to feel comfortable and safe, said Lupovitch.

In the international category, human-rights advocate Rima Nasir Tarazi from Palestine won the cash award for her work promoting peace and helping women and children, especially those who have been victims of war. Women from Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, Finland, France, Guatemala, Israel, Puerto Rico, Romania, Russia and the United States were also honoured.

Photo: Carol Lupovitch and Judy Stevens, co-founders of Share the Warmth, won the cash prize for their Point St. Charles food bank and efforts for seniors and children.

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