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Immortal Chaplains Foundation Awards Prize For Humanity

By Carla M. Collado, Staff Writer, Gazette Newspapers

A Long Beach-based organization devoted to preserving the legacy of four World War II heroes who risked their lives to protect others of different faiths now will present the 2007 Prize for Humanity to three modern-day heroes who are doing just the same.

The Immortal Chaplains Foundation has spent the past 10 years honoring four chaplains — a Jewish rabbi, a Catholic priest and two Protestant pastors — who died when the U.S. troopship Dorchester was torpedoed and sank off the coast of Greenland in 1943. As the ship sank, they kept others calm and handed out life jackets. Even when they ran out of jackets, they took off their own and gave them to other soldiers without regard to faith or race. They were last seen standing arm-in-arm on the ship’s hull, praying together.

Today, the four chaplains are memorialized at the Immortal Chaplains Memorial Sanctuary aboard the Queen Mary.

David Fox started the Immortal Chaplains Foundation in part to continue the legacy of his uncle, Chaplain George Fox, who was one of the four chaplains aboard the Dorchester. One way of achieving that is through the Prize for Humanity, which the group awards annually.

“It’s to honor those who have risked their lives for those of a different faith or origin,” Fox said of the prize.

The 2007 Prize for Humanity will be presented on Feb. 3 on the Queen Mary to a team of one Dutch and two Africans — Derk Rijks, Marie-Rose Neloum and Gillhoube Patallet — who have aided thousands of Muslim refugees in the Darfur region of Sudan.

“Their example is exemplary,” Fox said of the recipients. “They’re terrific people and their story needs to be told.”

In 2005, Rijks teamed up with the Dutch NGO (nongovernmental organization) KoZon to distribute solar cookers in refugee camps near war-torn Darfur. The cookers were a response to the increasing danger of women and children who often leave their camps in search of firewood for cooking. Many of them are attacked, raped and killed by militia bands.

The $8 cookers each consist of a parabolic cardboard piece covered on one side with aluminum foil, a blackened pot with a lid and an ovenproof plastic bag.

“The women like it very much because of several reasons,” Rijks said. “They do not have to go out so often on the hazardous duty of collecting firewood and they do not have to stay near the fire all day, and do not get dirty, feel that they do not smell bad and there is no danger of fire for small children or tents. They have time to do handiwork or spend on their children or on social activities, and so on.”

Rijks then recruited Neloum and Patallet to help distribute the cookers and train the refugee women on how to build and use them. The trio’s efforts have helped provide solar cookers to about 200,000 mostly Muslim refugees and have reduced the need for firewood among them by 50%. Woven hay baskets made by the refugees retain the heat longer and can increase savings to 70%.

“I do not think that I particularly merit the prize myself,” Rijks said, “but that the merit goes to the whole team in the field and those backing us up.  I also feel that the fact that the prize is given in this context may help to influence ordinary people to ask the leaders of our various countries and religious groups to stop the inhuman activities in this part of Africa.”

The Immortal Chaplains Foundation accepts nominations for the Prize for Humanity from anywhere in the world. Rijks, Neloum and Patallet were nominated by Jewish World Watch.

“We also try to be sensitive to what’s going on the world,” Fox said, “direct the prize to illustrate what a common person can do that’s extraordinary. It’s a terrible situation (in Darfur), and we want to try to bring attention to it.”

The 2007 Prize for Humanity ceremony starts with a reception at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 3 in the Queen’s Salon on the Queen Mary. Oscar and Golden Globe nominee Don Cheadle will present the prize. Cheadle is an activist on behalf of victims of the Darfur crisis and is known for his recent role in the movie “Hotel Rwanda.” He will be joined at the ceremony by the 2000 Prize for Humanity recipient, Paul Rusesabagina and his wife Tasiana, the couple that was portrayed in “Hotel Rwanda.”

Tickets for the event are $75 per person, and table sponsorships are available.

For tickets or more information about the event, call 499-6670 or visit www.immortalchaplains.org.