November 17, 2016
Bwelle at the ceremony.
DALLAS (SMU) – African physician Georges Bwelle, who goes the distance to offer free healthcare for his country’s impoverished,and Carol Brady Houston, a compassionate Plano-based supporter of special-needs children and their families, were recognized with 2016 Triumph of the Spirit Awards at a music- and art-filled celebration Nov. 16 at the Kessler Theater in Dallas.
“All the kids we’re credited for changing their lives for the better are actually changing our lives for the better,” said Bwelle.
Houston told the audience, "Rick Halperin gave me a bracelet that says, ‘There’s no such thing as a lesser person.’ What a wonderful world this would be if we all followed that.”
Sponsored by SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program (EHRP), the bi-annual awards reward both an international and local humanitarian with a total of $30,000. The awards and its related festivities are supported by an anonymous donor.
“These awards –which put a human face on the struggle for human rights,” said EHRP Director Rick Halperin. “The event is also designed to revitalize the spirit of the entire Dallas community as we work to build a kinder and more humanitarian city.”
Global Winner: Georges Bwelle
Physician Georges Bwelle has spent a decade overcoming physical, financial and political obstacles to provide free medical care and health education to people in need in his native West African country of Cameroon and beyond.
Bwelle, a general surgeon and gastroenterologist for the Central Hospital of Yaoundé in Cameroon’s capitol city, is founder of ASCOVIME (Association Des Compétences Pour Une Vie Meilleure), a non-profit that relies on donations and volunteers to fight diseases and illiteracy in rural Africa, where healthcare and education are often inaccessible, insufficient and expensive.
Since 2008, Bwelle and his team have spent most weekends in remote villages, where they provide a field clinic, operating room, pharmacy and other services for up to 500 patients – some of whom walk nearly 40 miles for treatment.
Bwelle’s work is vital to the nearly 24 million people of Cameroon, where only one doctor is available for every 5,000 people. Additionally, only 6 percent of the nation’s budget goes to fight endemic diseases ranging from malaria to meningitis in hospitals that are overcrowded, unsanitary and lack doctors, who earn very little pay.
As CNN reported when honoring him as one of its 10 “Heroes” of 2013, Bwelle was inspired to become a doctor after watching his father die from complications of poor health care in 2002. One of the last things his father said was, “Son, you see how difficult it is to see a doctor. When you become one, please help the poor.”
Now, Bwelle says, “I am so happy when I am doing this work. I hope [my father] sees what I am doing.”
Dallas-Area Winner: Carol Brady Houston
Each Friday without fail, for the past 20 years, Carol Brady Houston and a group of trained nurses and volunteers ensure that medically and physically challenged children experience a fun evening out so their parents can enjoy some much-needed time for themselves.
As director of the Plano-Based nonprofit group Friday Nite Friends, Houston helps children with special needs engage in arts and crafts projects plus physically and mentally challenging activities. On occasion, she also brings in special entertainment ranging from musical performances to visits by pet therapy dogs.
Friday Nite Friends (FNF) was founded in 1992 by Lynda Guerrero, the mother of a child who required constant nursing care. The nation’s second respite program was started as an outreach project for Custer Road United Methodist Church, where it is still based.
FNF now serves more than 60 families from all socio-economic backgrounds. So far, an estimated 250 families have benefitted from its services, which have provided training to more than 500 nursing students and enlisted about 3,000 volunteers, half of them youth.
During her 24-year career as a special education teacher, and after two decades of working with FNF, Houston says her best training has been as the mother of a son born with Spina bifida. “I’m no stranger to the stresses of long hospital stays and too many doctors appointments,” she says. “I can relate to families’ needs and challenges.”
Bwelle and Houston were among 55 candidates for Triumph of the Spirit Awards who were nominated by people from around the world. Each was selected as a winner by a group of respected academics, peace advocates and others for best exemplifying the tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the EHRP credo, “There is no such thing as a lesser person.”
Fox 4 News interview with Carol and Halperin.
“Working in different settings, Georges and Carol assert the dignity of individuals who too often are treated with scorn and indifference. Their leadership is defined by humility, perseverance and expertise in difficult conditions,” says EHRP Associate Director Bradley Klein.
And on a local level, Klein says, “both are living sources of inspiration for future courage and optimism –particularly at this critical moment in our city’s history.”
For more details about the Triumph of the Spirit Awards, visit smu.edu/triumph.
SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Programin Dedman College of Humanities and Sciencesisdedicated to providing opportunities for promoting, defending and extending human rights. SMU is one of only seven U.S. institutions to offer a bachelor’s degree in human rights, and through its interdisciplinary program annually facilitates hundreds of learning events and immersive trips, as well as community outreach and social action campaigns.
Southern Methodist University(SMU) is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools.
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