Refugees Magazine, 1 December 1995
Mozambican humanitarian Graca Sabine Machel was awarded the 1995 Nansen Medal for her outstanding contributions on behalf of refugee children.
High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata presented the award, the 35th since 1955, to Machel at a ceremony on 20 October in Geneva.
"No country better reflects the hope of peace and reconciliation, nor the arduous task of reconstruction and rehabilitation, than Mozambique, where over 1.5 million refugees have returned home recently," Ogata said, in presenting the award. "No woman better symbolizes the courage and commitment to rebuilding the war-torn society to which the refugees have returned than Graca Sabine Machel."
Ogata noted that Machel was only the second African woman to receive the award since it began in 1955.
Machel, an activist and humanitarian since her student days in Portugal, was involved in Mozambique's liberation movement and, at the age of 29, was appointed state secretary for education in the post-independence government. She was the only woman in the Cabinet, and held the education portfolio until 1989. In 1975, she married Samora Machel, the first president of Mozambique.
Since her husband's death in a plane crash in October 1986, Machel has worked tirelessly for the development of Mozambique, overseeing efforts to provide universal education for all children and promoting peace and reconciliation in her war-torn homeland.
She is currently chairperson of an unprecedented United Nations study on the impact of armed conflict on children. The study, aimed at finding effective measures for the promotion and protection of the rights of child victims of armed conflict, is providing new insights into the plight of refugee children.
"For children, the deepest scars of war and flight are the hidden ones," Machel said in her acceptance speech. "Childhood years that can never be recaptured; the chance of education and full development lost in the struggle for survival in a refugee camp or settlement, now gone forever; the experience of dangers endured during flight, of rape or torture or forced conscription, cutting deep into the psyche of children."
The Nansen Medal is named after Norwegian diplomat and explorer Fridtjof Nansen, the first High Commissioner for Refugees under the League of Nations. It was created to focus attention on refugees and to give new impetus to the need for international support for the uprooted.
The Nansen Committee, which is chaired by the High Commissioner, is composed of members designated by the governments of Norway and Switzerland, and of representatives from the Council of Europe and the International Council of Voluntary Agencies.
Source: Refugees Magazine Issue 102 (1995)