YEREVAN — Dr. Tom Catena, who leaves the Nuba Mountains only in utter necessity, will fly to Armenia in order to attend the Aurora Prize weekend of events and the Award Ceremony in Yerevan. He was nominated last year as well. But in 2016, he didn’t attend the ceremony. He couldn’t. This year, however, the people of the Nuba Mountains will be able to rely on three Armenian doctors who will be substituting for him, and, like him, will save lives.
Lieutenant Colonel Gevorg Voskanian, Major Hayk Hovhannisian and Armine Barkhudarian –did now waver for a second when told that they are urgently needed in a remote corner of the world.
“This isn’t my first mission. Twice in 2010 and 2013 I have served in Afghanistan as a member of the Armenian peace-keeping forces,” says Major Hayk Hovhannisian, Deputy Chief of the Surgery Unit at the Central Clinical Military Hospital of Armenia’s Defense Ministry. “It didn’t take long to decide, considering the framework and urgency of the mission. To me it would be unacceptable to decline.”
“It is impossible to underestimate the value of humanism for physicians. I cannot be satisfied working under relatively easy conditions of peace while I see there are committed people who are serving in the most dangerous places and conditions, regardless of their ethnicity or religion,” observed Lieutenant Colonel Gevorg Voskanian, chief surgeon at the Central Clinical Military Hospital of Armenia, who has served 23 years as a military doctor.
In Sudan, Gevorg Voskanian and Hayk Hovhannisian will be joined by Armine Barkhudarian, who is on a humanitarian mission in the hospital of Malindi, Kenya, where she is much needed. “Every detail of Tom Catena’s story is inspiring, I don’t even know what to highlight. Both of us are doctors, yet it was very difficult for me to acknowledge where he is now, versus where I am. The person with the same profession as me risks his life, he serves so many patients, lives in those harsh conditions of war, and what about me, I thought?”
“The feeling that you save lives is crucial for a doctor and gives an inner strength that you cannot substitute by anything else. Sometimes it cannot even be described by mere words,” says Doctor Voskanian.
“You begin to understand and assess the risks when you grow as a professional and see your skills required in places where risk levels are high,” says Hayk Hovhannisian with the sober-mindedness of a soldier. “You aren’t alone there; you bear the responsibility for the health and wellbeing of the people you are out to help. That is your motivation.”
Reaching the Nuba Mountains in the south of Sudan is not easy. The suffering of the local population seems endless. Dr. Tom Catena has witnessed it all. The sole surgeon in the local Mother of Mercy hospital that serves the entire region, this devout American Catholic came to Sudan in the peaceful years preceding the war, and then refused to leave the people once the civil war broke out in 2011.
In addition to Dr. Catena, the other finalists for the 2017 Aurora Prize are Fartuun Adan and Ilwad Elman, Jamila Afghani, Dr. Tom Catena, Muhammad Darwish, Dr. Denis Mukwege. They have been chosen for their exceptional impact, courage and commitment to preserving human life and advancing humanitarian causes. The finalists will be honored at the Aurora Prize Ceremony in Yerevan, Armenia on May 28, 2017 when one will be chosen as the 2017 Aurora Prize Laureate. The Aurora Prize Laureate will receive a grant of US$100,000 to support the continuation of their work, as well as a US$1,000,000 award, which will give them the unique ability to continue the cycle of giving by supporting organizations that have inspired their work.