Indian-American Benita Singh, a Yale university student, is among 15 US citizens and organisations chosen by Newsweek magazine for its annual 'Giving Back Awards' -- honouring those who use fame, fortune and heart to devote themselves to helping others.
Benita and her partner Ruth DeGolia have been chosen for their work among women, especially widows, in Guatemala. The 15 awardees were chosen from among hundreds of nominations.
The citation says Benita and Ruth were still undergraduates in the summer of 2003 when they found their destiny in the village of San Alfonso in Guatemala.
The two, international-studies majors at Yale, were working on their senior theses when they visited the village, filled with women who had fled Guatemala during a brutal civil war in the 1980s.
After two years in refugee camps in Mexico, the women, many of them widowed by the fighting, had been repatriated to their country where there was no work and no market for the exquisite woven and beaded handicrafts they produced.
But the women weren't beggars. It was, says Benita, "the first time I'd ever walked into an impoverished community where people weren't asking me for money."
So the two students filled their suitcases with beaded bags and necklaces and took them back to Yale that fall, where they quickly sold out at a 300 per cent markup.
By Christmas they were back in Guatemala, laying the groundwork for a non-profit organisation they named Mercado ("market") Global, which seeks to bring the benefits of globalisation to poor communities.