THE MEANING OF THE BARBARA CHESTER AWARD
AND ITS PLACE IN THE WORLD TODAY
Principal Address at the 2006 Barbara Chester Award Event
Tucson, Arizona on October 14, 2006
by Inge Genefke, MD, DMSc hc mult
Founder of IRCT (1981) and IRCT (1985)
Founder of WPA Section on Psychological
Consequences of Torture and Persecution
“In 1993 Barbara Chester spent 3 months in Copenhagen looking at our rehabilitation and research center for torture victims and at our documentation center. She was studying for her planned book: Mercy Has a Human Heart: Clinical Work with Survivors of Political Torture.
During her stay she made amongst all the other important tasks a guest lecture on ‘Consequences of Cumulative Trauma Among American Indian People.’ The lecture began as following: “In 1492 when Columbus made contact with North Americans, approximately 2.5 million indigenous people lived in what is now the United States. At the turn of the century fewer than 270,000 remained. Since European contact, indigenous people have suffered from deliberate and systematic destruction of their homes, communities and cultures. “
Then followed, as always when Barbara was speaking, a very intellectual, very human lecture with a thorough analysis – and of course it was an analysis of the suffering of others.
In 2000 when this very important award – the only anti-torture award existing – was given for the first time, it went to Shari Eppel (Zimbabwe). I then in my speech stated that both the person whose spirit is symbolized and manifested by the award, the name-sake of the award, Barbara Chester, and the recipient, Shari Eppel, were two people who represent the courage, commitment, passion, and humanity to which we all aspire.
Since then the award has been given to Juan Almendares (Honduras) and to Allen Keller (U.S.); and then today Alp Ayan (Turkey) received the award.*
I think that the common denominator for these five extraordinary persons, the factor that unites them, is that they are, first a foremost, working and fighting for others. As Barbara wrote to me just before she died, she had always been better fighting for others than for herself; and she also wrote me courageously that facing death she considered helpful in creating the book: Mercy Has a Human Heart.
We all know this book would have been a masterpiece. We all deeply regret, that this book was not finished because Barbara died so much too early.
Barbara Chester and the four award winners equally are great clinicians working with commitment, passion, humanity and courage – not putting their lives first.
Bertolt Brecht says the following:
”THERE ARE MEN WHO STRUGGLE FOR ONE DAY
AND THEY ARE GOOD MEN;
THERE ARE MEN WHO STRUGGLE FOR ONE YEAR
AND THEY ARE BETTER MEN;
BUT THERE ARE MEN WHO STRUGGLE ALL THEIR LIVES,
AND THEY ARE INDISPENSABLE.”
And indeed it is true that persons who have been struggling their whole lives are not only indispensable, but also very important symbols. The world needs exactly symbols; and indeed these people are – that is what makes this award so very, very special.
Not “only” brilliant clinicians.
Not “only” working with passion and commitment.
But with a deep, deep understanding of that their lives are united with the many tortured persons, heroes, who have worked for freedom, for democracy, against tyranny and dictatorship. All five have done that with the greatest courage.
Amongst them are award-winners, who have been exposed to threats, prisons and torture.
I will now quote an excerpt from a poem made by the great Danish poet Erik Stinus, translated by the great American author Thomas E. Kennedy:
“YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND
THAT MEN AND WOMEN WHO BELIEVE
THE THINGS YOU BELIEVE WILL BE ARRESTED –
TAKEN FROM A LIST
OR AT RANDOM –
AND THROWN INTO PRISON, HUMILIATED
UNTIL THEY BELIEVE THEY WILL DIE,
BELIEVE THEIR LOVED ONES ARE DEAD,
WANT TO DIE. THEIR HOPE
HAS TO BE KILLED.
YOU HAVE TO HOPE ON THEIR BEHALF,
FEEL THEIR ABUSED BODIES
AS YOUR BODY
AND THEIR DYING HOPE
AS A CHILD YOU RESCUE
FROM THE FLAMES.
YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND
IT IS WITH THEIR LIVES
THAT YOURS IS UNITED.”
These five symbols understood this so well, how we all are united with the victims of torture, and for a torture-free world. And that is why I think this award is so special and unique.” -- Inge Genefke
* Author’s note: In 2009 Mary Fabri became the fifth recipient of the Barbara Chester Award.