Feliciano dos Santos accepts the Ouroboros trophy from Richard Goldman at the 2008 Goldman Prize ceremony held earlier this month in San Francisco. A second ceremony was held in Washington, D.C.
The following post was written by Claire Alexander, vice president of Operations & Interactive Media for Planet Green, and TreeHugger's woman on the ground at the Goldman Environmental Prize ceremony in Washington, D.C. earlier this week.
More than 500 people came out to recognize the environmental work of seven individuals from around the world at the 2008 Goldman Environmental Prize ceremony in Washington, D.C. on April 16. The winners, who each received $150,000 from the Goldman Foundation, ranged from a sanitation activist/musician in Mozambique to a beer-drinking Belgian who led the effort to establish his country's first national park. The highlight of the evening came when honoree Feliciano Dos Santos (the aforementioned musician) picked up his guitar, and led a call and return song with the audience in Portuguese about washing your hands to prevent illness. (Check out his quite beautiful music at his website, Massukos).Sanitation, which is not a table-conversation topic in much of the third world or any where else, is Feliciano's passion. He promotes the use of "eco-san" toilets, which don't leach their contents into the surrounding soil, and whose contents can be mix with ash and turned into fertilizer for the rural communities that use them. In this way, communities spend less money on health care, and are able to generate income from increased crop yields.
Other inspiring stories came out of Ecuador, Russia, and Puerto Rico, where individuals saw the health of their friends and families threatened by big business or government eco-negligence. Instead of just rolling over, each of them decided that the bad guys should be afraid of them, and mobilized communities to kick the polluters out.
And then there was Jesus Leon Santos, who is working his own miracles in Mexico by turning barren soil into verdant land. He has engaged local campesinos to plant over one million native trees, taught them to employ previously underused indigenous practices, and has consequently brought both pride and economic opportunity back to Oaxaca.
All of this would sound like impossible propaganda had I not been sitting in the audience and seen these extraordinary individuals for myself. But having now been in the same room as them and having heard their stories (and their dreams), I can see that with personal passion, and a whole lot of persistence, each one of us is capable of making a huge difference.
As awardee Rosa Hilda Ramos said, "Come, share our dreams and be our allies." It's really an amazing opportunity we have to make a difference.
The full list of winners and more details about their accomplishments at the Goldman Prize website.
Read more about the Goldman Environmental Prize
Goldman Environmental Prize website
TreeHugger's profiles of former Goldman Prize Winners