They are four relatively obscure humanitarians: an orphanage founder in Burundi who challenged a bloodthirsty mob and other dangers; the only doctor for half a million people in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains; a Pakistani advocate for indentured laborers who helps extricate them from debt; and a Roman Catholic priest in the Central African Republic who saved more than 1,000 Muslims, mostly women and children, from fatal persecution.
An international committee deliberating on who would receive a new humanitarian award, created in memory of the Armenian genocide, has selected these four as finalists for the annual prize, meant to honor those whose exceptional work to preserve human life in disasters created by humans — like war and ethnic strife — puts them in great peril. The finalists, whose selection will be announced Tuesday, will attend a ceremony in Yerevan, Armenia, on April 24, where the winner will be announced.
“They’re not celebrities — they’re surprised that some people in the outside world even noticed them,” said Vartan Gregorian, the president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, a philanthropic foundation. Mr. Gregorian, an American scholar of Armenian descent, leads the selection committee for the award, known as the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity.
“They’re not in the self-aggrandizing business,” Mr. Gregorian said in an interview with New York Times alongside two other committee members, Gareth Evans, a former foreign minister of Australia, and Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian peace activist and Nobel laureate.
The prize, created by Mr. Gregorian and two other prominent philanthropists of Armenian descent, Noubar Afeyan and Ruben Vardanyan, has a twist that distinguishes it from other prizes: The winner receives $100,000 and designates an organization that inspired his or her work to be the beneficiary of $1 million.
The finalists are Marguerite Barankitse, founder of Maison Shalom, which began as a center for orphans during ethnic upheavals that convulsed Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1990s; Dr. Tom Catena, a physician from Amsterdam, N.Y., who founded the Mother of Mercy Hospital in Sudan’s war-ravaged Nuba Mountains eight years ago; Syeda Ghulam Fatima, who runs the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, an organization in Lahore, Pakistan, that aids destitute workers and who was once shot because of her work; and the Rev. Bernard Kinvi, a priest from Togo who runs a Catholic mission in the Central African Republic that has saved many civilians from reprisals in that country’s chronic civil conflict, regardless of their backgrounds.
The finalists were chosen from 200 submitted after the award was announced last April during events for the centennial of the Armenian genocide, widely considered the first genocide of the 20th century. As many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed as the Ottoman Empire collapsed.
The award founders named it the Aurora Prize after a genocide survivor, Aurora Mardiganian, who witnessed the massacre of relatives and told her story in a book and film.
Ms. Gbowee said she hoped the prize would inspire a generation of young people, many of whom she feared had become hardened or intimidated by humanitarian crises around the world.
“How do we awaken humanity in them? Should we start now?” she said. “My answer is yes. And the whole idea of this prize is the perfect opportunity to begin that conversation.”