Chris Mburu, winner, 2019 Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award

In 2010, the documentary film entitled A Small Act had already given the world a glimpse into the beginning of an extraordinary story.

Chris Mburu holding his Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award. @Chris Mburu


As a child growing up in his native Kenya, Chris Mburu had little to no chance to pursue his dream of acquiring a higher education.

The first school years were not an issue for Mburu who was a remarkable student. Soon, however, his family could no longer afford tuition fees to keep him enrolled. But because of his outstanding grades, Mburu was selected for a sponsorship through the Swedish Sponsorship Scheme, a foundation that assisted bright children from poor families in Kenya.

He had only heard the name of the woman who paid for his tuition throughout his school years: Hilde Back, a teacher living in Sweden. A Small Act shows Mburu's quest to find Back but also his determination to offer a brighter future for children.

After secondary school, Mburu's future became, indeed, exceptional. He went on to study law at Harvard and later started his professional career at Amnesty International and International Human Rights Law Group, before joining UN Peacekeeping and UN Human Rights on assignments in Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Cameroon, Burundi, and Rwanda where he was nominated as Senior Human Rights Advisor in 2011.

The UN Secretary General recently nominated Mburu as Resident Coordinator in the Republic of Congo. In his new capacity, Mburu will aim to bring together the different UN agencies to improve the effectiveness of their work in that country.

The "needy child" as he once described himself is now the 2019 recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award. The Award is given every year by the San Diego Chapter of the United Nations Association of the US (UNASD) to "individuals that believe in the goals of the United Nations and effect positive, lasting change in their work."

Mburu has been an active and vocal defender of the right to education for all, trying the replicate the sponsorship programme that helped him as a child.  UNASD rewarded Mburu for his "tireless work in promoting human rights, the rule of law and the right to education, the very foundation for a shared, equitable and sustainable future."

"It was a humbling honour to receive, last night in California, the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award for 2019. The award is named after the former US first lady, who acquired legend status due to her role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," Mburu said following the award ceremony that took place on UN Day, 24 October. "Even more special for me was to receive the award from the hands of Ms Eleanor Roosevelt's grandson, Mr Ford Roosevelt!"

"I urge all to continue working to ensure all children have free access to education, a right that Ms Eleanor Roosevelt included in the Universal Declaration to emphasize that education is a human right!" he added, emphatically.

7 November 2019

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