• Social Justice as Action Story: Martin Luther King Award Recipients Tell Students, "Go to Where There Is No Trail, and Leave a Blaze"

    Friday, February 6, 2009
    News Type

“Hearing their stories, I felt tears come to my eyes,” said Ariel Nicole Murphy '12, seated with a notebook open in her lap at the conclusion of the Martin Luther King Jr. Social Justice Awards ceremony, held January 30 at the Collis Common Ground. She was referring to four alumni and one student group who'd just been presented with awards: Kul Chandra Gautam '72, former assistant secretary-general of the United Nations; Ricki Stern '87, social documentary filmmaker; and Fred Ochieng '05, MD, and Milton Ochieng '04, MD, founders of the Lwala Health Clinic in Kenya; and members of the student mentor group DREAM.

Clockwise from left: Kul Chandra Gautam '72, former assistant secretary-general of the United Nations and deputy executive director of UNICEF; Ricki Stern '87, social documentary filmmaker; and Fred Ochieng '05, MD,  and Milton Ochieng '04, MD, founders of the Lwala Health Clinic in Kenya.

“For me to be able to see others who've started in my position,” said Murphy, “and see the hard work and goals and dreams they've been able to achieve over the years, is phenomenal.”

The Dermatones, an a cappella group from Dartmouth Medical School, began the evening by singing some South African hymns, after which host Michael Henderson praised the honorees for recognizing social justice as a call to action. "These people live social justice; it's something that's a part of them, an action they take on a daily basis," Henderson said.

President James Wright thanked the honorees for "all they do, all they represent, and all they encourage in us.” He noted that their contributions to communities around the world reflect Dartmouth's ever-increasing global awareness. “Nestled here in a beautiful landscape and anchored by a strong sense of attachment and community, Dartmouth nonetheless sees itself in a context that is global as well as local," he said. "We know that distant wars are not distant, and we are aware of widening hardships in our community, among our neighbors, within our country, and internationally.”

The president cited this combination of global awareness and a sense of community as “the context for what I think of as ‘Dartmouth work,' which is to prepare our students for a lifetime of learning and responsible leadership.”

The awards were presented by David Spalding '76, vice president for Alumni Relations.

Kul Chandra Gautam '72 received the Lester B. Granger '18 Award for Lifetime Achievement for his longtime commitment to humanitarianism and children's welfare. A former assistant secretary-general of the United Nations and deputy executive director of UNICEF, Gautam has worked extensively in the areas of socioeconomic development, international diplomacy, humanitarian assistance, and human rights. The highest ranking Nepali in the United Nations, he dedicated himself to promoting peace in Nepal during the civil war. In addition, Gautam was the key senior UNICEF officer responsible for drafting the Declaration and Plan of Action of the 1990 World Summit for Children, and in 2002 he worked as a lead organizer on Special Session of the U.N. General Assembly on Children. In recognition of his dedication to humanitarian assistance, Gautam received a 2008 Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award.

His life experiences have taught him two important lessons, Gautam said. “The first is how lucky we all are—all of us in this hall, even those of us who might think that we've not been particularly successful or privileged.” Noting that 1 billion people in the world live on less than a dollar a day, Gautam continued, “The second thing I've learned is that in spite of such horrific statistics, the situation is not so hopeless in the world. It's within our power to make a huge difference.”

Ricki Stern '87 received the Ongoing Commitment Award for her advocacy for social justice through film. In presenting the award, Spalding noted that Stern looks to filmmaking as “an avenue through which she can bring important topics to the attention of the general public.”  Stern's documentaries have addressed flaws in the justice system, the genocide in Darfur, and post-9/11 threats to American civil liberties. The founder of Break Thru Films, Stern has earned numerous awards for her work. Along with colleague Annie Sundberg '90, Stern has been recognized with the Best Female Filmmakers Award at the San Diego Film Festival, the Adrienne Shelley Excellence in Filmmaking Award, and the Lena Sharpe/Women in Cinema Persistence of Vision Award at the Seattle International Film Festival.

“I've been very fortunate in making documentaries about inspiring individuals who are doing incredible things with their lives,” Stern said. “Through that, I hope to change people's perceptions, whether it's [challenging] prejudice or informing people, giving voice to the powerless.”

Milton Ochieng '04, MD, and Frederick Ochieng ''05, MD, received the Emerging Leadership Award for founding the Lwala Community Health Center and Lwala Community Alliance, which promotes health, educational opportunities, and economic freedom in western Kenya. The brothers grew up in the village of Lwala and as teenagers realized the impact on their community of the lack of access to health care. After participating in a Tucker Foundation service trip to Nicaragua as a student, Milton realized that it was possible for him to make his dream of founding a clinic in Lwala a reality. “If you want to make a change,” he said, “you go to places where there is no trail, and then you leave a blaze right behind you.”

Fred also credited Dartmouth with helping them achieve their goals. “The Dartmouth experience really gave us the wings to be able to fly, to go out there and do what we were dreaming of doing.”

The Ochiengs' health center opened in 2007, after two years of construction and fundraising. Each month the clinic treats over 1,500 patients, providing basic primary care as well as maternal and child health services free of charge for 85 percent of patients. The brothers' work is the subject of the documentary Sons of Lwala, and they were featured as People of the Week on ABC World News. Milton is currently a resident in internal medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, and Fred is studying medicine at Vanderbilt University.

A nonprofit mentoring program that matches college students with children from local subsidized housing communities, the student organization DREAM was recognized for its contributions to the community. The Dartmouth chapter of DREAM performs approximately 8,400 hours of community service of each year.

Capturing the energy and spirit of the awards ceremony, Milton Ochieng had this advice to aspiring activists: “You are the change, and we are the change. Do not sit there and wait for somebody else to do it for you.”

Murphy wrote those words in her notebook before heading out the door. 

Laura Romain '09, an English major, is the Web writing intern in the Alumni Relations Office.