Sunday, 11 January 2009

Helen Bamber

Helen is the first winner of The Times /Sternberg Active Life award for a person over 70. The award is for those who refuse to think that pensionable age should herald a quiet life.

When she was 20 years old and the war had just ended, Helen Bamber went into Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany to help with the rehabilitation of survivors who had been seriously traumatised by torture, hunger and the murders of their spouses, friends and children.

More than six decades later - at 83 - she is still doing much the same thing, but now in Britain, helping asylum seekers and refugees to recover from torture and other rights abuses. Mrs Bamber has dedicated her entire life to human rights. After she returned from Germany, she was one of the early members of Amnesty International, driven by the need to expose the practices of torture worldwide and document the injuries of survivors. From this work she set up the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. After she stepped down in her late seventies in 2002, she did not go quietly into retirement but instead established the Helen Bamber Foundation in premises near the British Museum in Central London. She continues to help survivors of genocide, torture, “ethnic cleansing”, sex trafficking and domestic violence.

The Times in its editorial comment on this also reminded me of the wonderful Thoreau maximum that none are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.

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