Hermann Gmeiner Award 2020

Following this year's global call for nominations, we received more than 200 nominations for the Hermann Gmeiner Award 2020. With a little delay due to the global pandemic, and guided in their choice by an international selection committee, the Board of Directors of the Hermann Gmeiner Academy has selected eight finalists - four women and four men. It is now your turn to vote for your two favorites.

Please read the short bios and watch their videos and cast your vote for one woman and one man. Voting ends on July 23, 2020 at 12 p.m. Central European Time. THANK YOU for being part of this! 

Before you decide, remember we are looking for inspiring SOS alumni who, despite facing difficulties in life, have gone on to become role models, are outstanding in their field (whether social, cultural, athletic or professional) and have given back to society by contributing to the well-being of others and the greater good of their community. 

The online voting is now closed. Thank you for your participation!

We are evaluating the results and will make a formal announcement early next week.  

Meet the 8 finalists:

Aliya Rayeva, 29, Kazakhstan

Aliya exemplifies the power of will and determination. Despite serious health problems, she became a successful athlete, representing Kazakhstan in  international paralympic events. She motivates other young people with disabilities to do sports. Aliya is also a social activist and volunteer, working with single mothers, providing them with counseling and emotional support.

Born with the cerebral palsy, Aliya's biological mother left her several days after giving birth. Aliya, who spent her first years at a state orphanage, arrived at the SOS Children’s Village in Almaty in 1996 at the age of five. Aliya underwent three major leg surgeries as a child and doctors were not sure if she would ever walk. With the support of her SOS mother, Aliya started the long process of  rehabilitation. She not only walked again, but went onto become a Paralympian. Today she works with young people with disabilities and young mothers to raise their level of self-esteem and motivation. She also advocates for the rights of orphans, and children and families in difficult life circumstances.

Aside from that, Aliya is a wife and mother of a baby boy. “I am amazed by Aliya’s inner energy and strength and the fact that she is so responsive to other people’s needs,” wrote an SOS staff member in nominating her. “Aliya proves that there are no obstacles as long as you want to achieve your goals.”

Alfred Muharremi, 29, Albania

Alfred is a banker by profession, but his experience growing up in an SOS Children’s Village has led him to be a voice for child’s rights in his country. Alfred leads a group of young people who have grown up in alternative care – some in the SOS village and others in children's homes in Albania - to advocate for the rights of children without parental care. Over the past four years, the group has carried out nearly 40 local and national projects, including organising a plenary session in the Albanian Parliament last year to lobby for changes to laws affecting children and young people.

Professionally, Alfred works as a Business Loan Analyst at Credins Bank, and in his capacity also volunteers as a member of the Board of Directors of the National Orphanage Association of Albania. Growing up in an SOS Children’s Village meant so much to Alfred that he and his wife chose to marry in the Children’s Village on Hermann Gmeiner’s birthday in 2017. Today, the couple have a son. “Alfred is a role model that by fighting hard, working and studying, never forgetting who you are and where you come from, you find the strength to live and to be useful to others,” wrote an SOS co-worker about Alfred.

Alfred has also won several local and national philanthropist awards for his dedication and volunteerism, including from the Delegation of the European Union in Albania.

Kristina Ivanuš, 21, Croatia

Sea pollution is deeply troubling to Kristina. As a competitive diver and underwater photographer, Kristina actively works in Croatia to raise awareness on preserving the diversity and richness of our seas.

Kristina’s love for diving and other sports marked a turning point in her life. Sports was a way for her to overcome a neurological condition that made it difficult for her to walk as a child. After completing a diving course in 2016, Kristina became a diving model as well as started to compete. She won medal after medal in competitions, nationally and abroad. The active life-style paid off in more important ways: in 2018, medical tests showed her neurological condition, radiculoneuritis, was gone. Today, she often visits the SOS Youth Facility where she tries to motivate the young residents to pursue sports, and diving in particular.

“She made the impossible possible!” wrote a staff member about Kristina, who currently is a marketing and communications student at the Zagreb School of Business. “She triumphed over limitations imposed by her illness and proved that strong will, persistence and faith in oneself can surmount any obstacles.”

Gebre-egziabher Gebre, 36, Ethiopia

Gebre-egziabher came to the SOS Children’s Village in Mekelle, Ethiopia in 1984 as a five-month old baby after his parents died in the worst famine in Ethiopian history. Some thought this malnourished and ill baby would not even survive. But from that humble start, Gebre-egziabher not only survived, but also thrived.

​​​​​​​A graduate of an SOS college in Ghana, he went on to get a full scholarship at Harvard University, where he graduated in 2008. Today, Gebre-egziabher works as an energy trader and lives in Houston Texas. He is currently the president of the Luel Girmay Foundation, named in honor of an SOS brother who passed away. The foundation, financed by SOS alumni living abroad, raises funds for academic equipment, computer facilities and libraries across Africa. The foundation has built computer and education centers in Ethiopia, the Gambia and Ghana.

In Ethiopia, Gebre-egziabher is a role model for his academic and professional achievements. His SOS mother flew from Ethiopia to attend his Harvard graduation. “It was one of the proudest moments of his life because she was able to see firsthand what he was able to achieve because of her unwavering support and love,” says an SOS staff member.

Rhoda Namtende, 49, Kenya

Rhoda is the founder of her own children's home called “Springs of Life” where she cares for and educates needy children.

Before being admitted to the SOS Children's Village in Mombasa, Rhoda and her siblings used to live on the streets. A malnourished child at first, she quickly caught up at school and finished her primary and secondary education successfully.  Later, immediately after leaving care, she secured herself a job at the Intercontinental Hotel in Mombasa. But her passion to serve others remained dominant and she kept coming back to the village encouraging other youngsters to work hard and pursue their dreams.

“Springs of Life”, in the spirit of Hermann Gmeiner, welcomes and accommodates young people, providing shelter and emotional advice. The home, founded in 2012, is growing and her initiative has inspired others to make a difference in the lives of those around them. At the same time, Rhoda is always there for children and young people at the SOS village when they need her. 

"When things were not going as I had envisioned, I once reached out to Rhoda” an SOS sibling remembers. “Although she was busy, she dropped everything, called me back, listened to me and then gave advice on the basis of her own challenges and experiences. She followed up on me until I was back on track”.

Lucian Mustata, 31, Romania

Lucian is a role model for young people and an inspiration to everyone he meets. He is resilient, hard-working, ambitious and objective driven and has already made a positive impact on society. After graduating in Cybernetics, Statistics and Economic Information from one of Romania's leading universities, Lucian earned Master's degrees in Projects Management, Informatics and Political Science. Today, he is the founder of Lucian & Partners - a successful IT company with 11 employees and clients all over the western world. 

A single child, Lucian was abandoned in a hospital after birth and brought to SOS Children's Villages soon after that. His ties with SOS Children’s Villages are still very strong: among other things, he organises an annual meeting of SOS alumni from his village, which is also joined by both retired and current SOS mothers, employees and friends.

With his belief that every child needs the love and care of a family, and based on what he experienced himself as a child, he set up the project "School for Parents”, which has supported more than 100 families in need. He also founded the Noteaboutlife Social Platform, a global platform similar to Facebook, which resulted in him being featured in Forbes Romania. He is frequently joining workshops for young people as a motivational speaker and works with all sorts of NGOs in the area of child protection, actively advocating for child rights.

Shteriyana Danova, 36, Bulgaria

Shteriyana has always tried to find social causes that need her the most. This led to her to support some major causes, from raising funds for SOS Children’s Village Bulgaria after violent storms in 2013 caused major damage, to fundraising to open a medical centre for children suffering from cancer. With a degree in economics and working for Unicredit bank, she has always been willing to use her skills for projects and people in need.

Shteriyana feels very protective of her SOS family, especially the children that she lived with at the SOS Children`s Villages in Tryavna. When she left the village and found her own place to live, she let all of her SOS siblings move in with her after leaving care. “She was there for them in one of the most crucial moments in their lives, offering them a safe place and supporting hand to begin the new stage in life,” an SOS co-worker wrote about Shteriyana. “Shteriyana felt responsible to help them find their own strengths, to encourage them and guide them through the labyrinth of everything new. She still keeps the family spirit and gathers everybody together when she feels there is a need. Her family is one of the strongest and closest thanks to her.”

Saye-Maye Cole, 44, Liberia

Saye-Maye grew up during Liberia’s brutal civil war. During this violent period, he found a home and refuge at the SOS Children Village in Monrovia. There he discovered that the classroom was the key to his hope and aspirations. Through the generosity of supporters, he attended United World College in Norway, which opened many doors for him. Today, Saye-Maye serves as Liberia’s national coordinator for United World College and Givat Haviva International School Israel. He works with about 500 students annually in a competitive recruitment process to identify and select the best students in Liberia. In his role, he tries to secure full scholarships for underprivileged students in his country.

Knowing how education helped him, Saye-Maye mentors students to stay in school. He coaches them on the importance of volunteerism, and encourages students to participate in leadership roles. Some of his student mentees are today members of their student council governments in high school.

Saye-Maye, who has held various civil servant positions in the Liberian government, has been a champion for political, social, and economic justice. “Today, he is an ambassador for change who believes that it is time to give back to his country,” says an SOS staff member who nominated him. “He provides mentorship and leadership to young people both in care and in the communities. Saye-Maye demonstrates how resilience, discipline, hard work and commitment can make a dream come true.”