HelpAge wins Hilton Humanitarian Prize on International Women's Day


By Rachel Trayner and Sarah Marzouk

Mama Teresa, 68, with her grandson, Cornel. She cares for four of her grandchildren. On International Women's Day, we are calling for more support for rural older women like Mama Teresa, 68. This International Women's Day, HelpAge International is delighted to be the proud recipient of the 2012 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize.

The award is the world's largest humanitarian prize, and is presented each year to an organisation that has delivered extraordinary work to alleviate human suffering.

The Hilton Prize will be presented at the Global Philanthropy Forum on 16 April in Washington, DC. The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation receives more than 200 nominations from around the world every year and the recipient is selected by an independent international jury.  

"A great honour"

Steven M Hilton, CEO and president of the Foundation said: "The world is ageing. By 2015, over 890 million people will be over 60. As the world prepares for this monumental demographic shift, HelpAge is showing us that it is important to recognise and support older people so they can continue to be contributing and productive members of society."

On being selected for the award, Richard Blewitt, HelpAge International's CEO said: "It is a great honour. It is especially meaningful to draw the world's attention to the historic transformation being brought about by global ageing and the plight of millions of older people who face overwhelming financial, social and health hurdles every day.

"At HelpAge, we believe the whole world benefits when we tap the substantial wisdom and talents of older people and enable them to lead dignified, active, healthy and secure lives."

Recognising the role of rural older women

Making the announcement today on International Women's Day, the Foundation recognised the role of rural older women who care for families, contribute to communities and play a major part in food production across the developing world.

"Older women are responsible for much of the farming and food production in developing countries, a critical function as food insecurity grows," notes Catherine A. Bertini, Hilton Prize juror, Syracuse University professor, and former executive director of the United Nations World Food Program. "They are the key contributors to families and communities."

Working on the farm at 68

An example of this is Mama Teresa. She is 68 and a farmer living in Kenya. She said: "I was married at 22 and had ten children, five of whom have died. My husband died in 1982.

"I care for four grandchildren. It is very hard because I have so many and I try to educate them, but money is not there. I also work on the farm and make money from my crops. I have two calves, but I cannot sell them. I need the milk for my family to help them grow.

"In 2008, I joined the Older Citizens Monitoring Group set up by HelpAge International's Affiliate KESPA, to monitor how healthcare officials were treating older people. If you go to the hospital, they don't welcome us properly. You stay there so long, sitting on benches, four to five hours without being seen because you are old. 

"Because of our group's work, they now attend to older people as soon as they see us sitting there. But there is still much more to do. I would like them to come and assist us in our homes so we don't have to travel so far."

Support needed for hidden workforce

Worldwide there are an estimated 450 million small-scale farms, like the one Mama Teresa works on. They support a population of roughly 2.2 billion people and represent 85% of the world's farms.
There is growing global concern over the sustainability of food production, distribution of food and increasing food prices as well as the impact of climate hazards, environmental degradation and depletion of natural resources. 

Older women make huge contributions as farmers and caregivers. They have knowledge and experience of farming techniques and weather patterns. This can increase production, reduce waste and help mitigate the impacts of a changing, less predictable climate.

However, more action is needed to support this forgotten workforce. Blewitt concluded: "On International Women's Day, HelpAge wants older women farmers to get the help they deserve, including targeted agricultural subsidies, a basic pension for agricultural workers and improved sharing of agricultural skills with children to protect future generations."

International Women's Day photogallery

Portraits of older women surviving in Kenya's rural communities:

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Comments submitted for this page


    many thanks to you and all of HelpAge What great news & you deserved. HelpAge has done so much for older persons around the world including Malawi. We will all be celebrating for HelpAge in everyday life.

  • Srey Saki (20 March 2012)

    Older people are an asset to society. Their contribution as carers,mentors, mediators and breadwinners is invaluable. we are very proud with this winner and congratulation to all of HelpAge Network,from HelpAge Cambodia,

  • hafiz ur rehman (13 March 2012)

    its great moment for helpage international ,older people are the strength of society ,and the movement of getting rights for older people will be achieve soon with endless efforts of whole society ,thank you very much Helpag International ,makes us proud ,

  • saima Helpage International Badin (13 March 2012)

    congratulation ,this brings more responsibility on us ,now we have to work with more dedication ,its an honour for us but on other hand great responsibility ,we can make this world better by combining the youth energy with older people experience ,kindly help us ,help yours world ,congratulation Helpage International

  • sakina Helpage INTL Badin (13 March 2012)

    older people are strenght ,they have experience and youth have energy ,both combine and can make better world.a peaceful world congratulation to all ,congratulation to HELPAGE INTERNATIONAL

  • Prince Adeculae Cummings (12 March 2012)

    I have over the last 20 years worked mainly for charitable organisation. I have been involved in the implementation of many types of project at the community level, working with children, youths and women. But looking at the direct contact HelpAge is making with older people and providing them the basic assistance that is mostly neglected by many NGO's, I was so delighted and feel proud that many of our Older people in Africa and Asia who usually are left to fend for themselves now have hope that they will be able to spend the rest of their remaining lives in peace and happiness. Its very comforting. Many thanks to the entire team at Help Age for saving the lives of Older people and giving them renewed hope.

  • Dame Barbara Monroe (12 March 2012)

    As a fellow Conrad Hilton prize winner I wanted to extend warmest congratulations from everyone at St Christopher's. Supporting older people is one of the biggest challenges we all face.

  • saima Helpage International Badin (12 March 2012)

    Congratulation ,and thanks to all who worked for this noble cause and still continue to doing so ,this award is for all of us ,we together can make changes and get results in old age people welfare .

  • Elizabeth (12 March 2012)

    Older people are the role models in a great manner because they have lived old and long enough to see what is right or wrong especially in our daily of the examples is on our eating habits which is greatly ruined on our farming strategies.nowadays we are not concentrating much on ancient food that were both nutritious and long live boosters and if we can seriously give attention to advices from the few old old people who are still there and empower them,then we can emulate soo much from them and pass on the knowledge to the future this I would request an assistance of village people walks for six kilometers in search of water.there is no underground water instead,it's geothermal,and so it has been hard for us and most of the villagers are old people since many young people don't want to stay there because of lack of water and other amenities.please assist.

  • Sarah Mace (12 March 2012)

    Massive congratulations to all the emergencies team at HAI. This is a well deserved prize!

  • Bongiwe Pakkies (11 March 2012)

    Excellent achievements for Helpage in giving older people a voice and a right to be noticed.Well done to all of you all over the world for your dedication in bringing the plight of older people in society as they do so much for their communities but with little acknowledgement

  • Raghav Raj Regmi (11 March 2012)

    Congratulations to HA Team across the globe. I feel proud to recall my association with HAI team in th e past as chair of NEPAN and take initiatives for elderly people of Nepal together HAI in the past 2005. Let us reinforce our commitment for the Nobel cause.

  • Gobinda Poudal (11 March 2012)

    Congratulations for great work and achievement!

  • Fatik Thapa (11 March 2012)

    Really good news..I am proud of your great job..Congratulations!

  • Michaque Fernando Ubisse (10 March 2012)

    Gratificante quando um servio to importante reconhecido. Mas por outro lado aumenta as responsabilidades e estou certo que a HelpAge continuar a justificar com aces a razo de ter sido nomeado ao grande prmio. Parabns HelpAge.

  • sakina Helpage INTL Badin (10 March 2012)

    Thank all of you ,who supported us during our facilitation provision to vulnerable community and i ensured that we will remain no stone unturned for community welfare

  • Aamir Zeb (10 March 2012)

    this is great honour for whole Helpage team and we will try our best to acheive our objectives in future as well and will provide unend able support to vulnerable community.

  • Fiona Clark (10 March 2012)

    I am proud to work for HelpAge every day, but on the 8th of March I was made particularly proud to have been part of this global network for over ten years. After 6 years working for HelpAge in Latin America where women of all ages are the back bone of development and older women continue to play crucial roles in supporting their families and communities (see Colombia story on the website), I have just arrived in Kenya to take on a post in HelpAge's East, West and Central Africa office based in Kenya. As the Hilton Jury visit last year made a visit to Kenya there was particular jubilation here that day and the announcement of the prize was received with singing and dancing in the office. Congratulations HelpAge, and congratulations to all older people around the world, in particular those struggling to live on the edge, yet still supporting their children and grandchildren and being agents of change for a better future for all generations.

  • Jo Elms (09 March 2012)

    Congratulations to everyone at HelpAge for winning this prestigious award. It is wonderful news, and very well deserved. Keep up the excellent work!
    Very best wishes

  • Evan Dakers (08 March 2012)

    HelpAge Belize would like to congratulate HelpAge International for being awarded the prestigious 2012 Hilton Humanitarian Prize. Keep up the good work!

  • Navdha (08 March 2012)

    Isabel Ortiz, UNICEF:

  • Navdha (08 March 2012)

    Aparna Mehrotra, UN Women:

    Please accept my heartiest congratulations. We have no way to go but forwards. This is only one demonstration that we will succeed.

  • Navdha (08 March 2012)

    Ronald Visser:

    Hi Richard,

    I heard, and shared, the news. A well deserved prize for a great organisation.

    Many congratulations to all involved, and warm wishes from Berlin,


  • Mohamed Ashquaff (08 March 2012)

    congratulatoins HelpAge international,

  • Navdha (08 March 2012)

    Jessica Frank, AARP:

    Congratulations to you and all of HelpAge! What great news and so well deserved. HelpAge has done so much for older persons around the world. We will all be celebrating for HelpAge today.

  • Navdha (08 March 2012)

    Robin Webster, Age Action Ireland:

    Congratulations to you and all your colleagues on being awarded the Hilton Humanitarian Prize. It is a tremendous achievement and richly deserved for all the work that you have done in support of older people and positive ageing throughout the world. Please pass on our congratulations to everyone in HAI from all of us in Age Action

  • Navdha (08 March 2012)

    Laura Machado:

    This is an excellent news and came on a good day to celebrate the International Day of Woman.
    HelpAge is an organizations that really deserves that prestigious award, as fights for the dignity of Older Persons trough strengthening their rights all over the world, along all those years.
    I am very honored to collaborate with HelpAge, do count on me to continue to struggle with governments and all stakeholders around the world in order to better succeed to have ageing into the agenda of all societies!

    Best regards,
    Laura Machado

  • Navdha (08 March 2012)

    John Beard, World Health Organisation:

    Dear All,
    Yes, this is just wonderful news, and it could not go to a more deserving group. As well as acknowledging your fantastic work, this award will help the growing momentum on ageing.

  • Navdha (08 March 2012)

    Geoffrey Dennis from CARE International:

    Congratulations from all at CARE.

  • Kizito Chiwala (08 March 2012)

    Right now it feels so great to be part of this hardworking global team!

  • Mohammad Bilal Siraj Sheikh (08 March 2012)


  • Mohammad Bilal Siraj Sheikh (08 March 2012)


  • kim (08 March 2012)

    i am prouud of the odler people what have to work to support there familys has in these povert country dont get enought support

  • Tesfaye (08 March 2012)

    I personal appreciate the decision of Hilton Prize jury...All actors should follow this example show commitment to address the special needs of older people though out the World, Tesfaye, Ethiopia

  • Zeeshan Alvi (08 March 2012)

    Congrats HelpAge team!

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Hear Richard Blewitt talk about rural older women in his interview with Vatican Radio (mp3).


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