Zain Osman’s work has only gotten more difficult as the humanitarian crisis has deepened in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Estimates from the United Nations suggest more than 300,000 people have fled the war-torn province this year alone, many of them lacking even the most basic necessities. And Osman, the president and founder of the American African Foundation Against Torture, is among those trying to help them.
“It’s a most difficult situation,” he said of the refugees fleeing the area. “There’s nowhere for them to go.”
Osman, a political refugee himself and the victim of torture, fled Sudan in 1992.
Now he’s using his painful and jarring experience to help those fleeing the bloodshed in Darfur.
“You have problem for human rights,” he said.
Osman’s work with the foundation garnered him recognition by Schenectady County’s Human Rights Commission during its annual awards ceremony Thursday. He was among four recipients selected for their efforts to foster mutual respect among all county residents.
Osman’s organization has played a significant role since rebels in Darfur began warring with the regime of Omar al-Bashir, a leader now accused of genocide and war crimes by the International Criminal Court. The conflict has left millions living in refugee camps, where conditions are deplorable.
Since being established in 2001, Osman’s organization has helped to raise awareness about the human rights plight of refugees and has assisted immigrants in obtaining skills needed to assimilate in the United States. In addition, the foundation provides a place where torture victims can share their stories.
Also recognized Thursday was Randall Hogue Jr., who won the commission’s youth award. Hogue was credited for his work in the city’s Hamilton Hill neighborhood, including a voter registration effort he spearheaded in Jerry Burell Park.
Hogue also worked with U-Start, assisting more than 40 underemployed and unemployed residents to become entrepreneurs. In addition, he’s devoted time coordinating computer video training and assisting women-owned business with Internet marketing.
The commission presented the Schenectady Fire Department with its group award for the department’s juvenile fire program. The initiative helped train more than 2,000 children about the dangers of playing with fire last year.
Defense attorney Mark Juda was presented with the commission’s justice award for being a champion of individual and group human rights. As a public defender, he provides legal advice and assistance to nonprofit community service organizations, including Schenectady Access Cable Council, St. Mary’s School, Schenectady Rotary and others.
Angelica Morris, the commission’s chairwoman, credited all of the recipients for their tireless work in the community and abroad.
“The awardees honored showed and manifested outstanding accomplishments and achievements in our county,” she said. “They serve their communities with great pride.”