Delhi girl who helps acid attack survivors rebuild lives wins UN award

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Ria Sharma was 21 when she set out to make a film on acid attack survivors. She ended up founding an organization when she realized a film would do little to change their lives. “I faced ageism and sexism when I set out to do that,” said Sharma, now 26. But she refused to give up.

The Delhiite became only Indian to get the UN’s Goalkeepers Global Goals Awards. Priyanka Chopra handed her the award. Leaders in politics, development, and entertainment gathered at Gotham Hall in New York to honour six Goalkeepers — men and women who have made considerable progress in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in their countries. Hosted by the UN deputy secretary-general Amina J Mohammed and philanthropist Melinda Gates, in partnership with UNICEF, the awards celebrated pioneering work in education, health, women’s empowerment and innovation.

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Sharma won the Leadership Award for her commitment to survivors of acid attacks. Her organization, Make Love Not Scars, has campaigned for their rehabilitation, education, and employment by raising funds and petitioning the government for reparation and to restrict the open sale of acid. Actor Priyanka Chopra, who presented the award, said that by helping people become self-sufficient, several SDGs could be met at once.

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Melinda Gates, in her opening address, pointed out that success with the goals was the result of exemplary leadership, and the awards were a way of recognizing and promoting it. Amina Mohammed called the ‘Goalkeepers’ real-life heroes. “The goals are about addressing root causes and not fixing band-aids,” she said while considering how the goals could be implemented in Myanmar to help resolve the Rohingya crisis.

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Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was awarded the Global Goalkeeper Award for steering a war-torn country to peace, and for tackling threats such as Ebola. In Tanzania, the labours of Felix Manyogote, 26, in women’s and children’s health won him the ‘Leave No One Behind’ Award. In Mali, 45-year-old Bernard Coulibaly’s focus on child nutrition earned him the ‘Healthy Not Hungry’ Award, presented by the Crown Princess Mary of Denmark.

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Columbian Laura Ulloa’s Young Goalkeeper Award was handed to her by, the singer from The Black Eyed Peas, whose own activism in education has been gaining momentum. In 2001, Ulloa was abducted by FARC soldiers from her school bus and held hostage for seven months. The 27-year-old, who believes only reconciliation can bring peace to her country, now works for the reintegration of former guerrillas into Columbian society.

Senegalese-born British entrepreneur Marieme Jamme won the Innovation Award for I Am The Code, an initiative that aims to teach one million young women globally to become coders by 2030.

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