Farmers and refugees win Caritas-Voices of Faith prize for women

Vatican City, March 5–Courageous Syrian refugees and Nicaraguan farmers are the winners of the first-ever “Women, Sowers of Development” award, given to groups that empower women and fight hunger.

Voices of Faith and Caritas Internationalis announced the two winning groups today at a press conference attended by a Syrian refugee and two Nicaraguan women farmers. They will receive the award itself at the “Voices of Faith” storytelling event on 8 March, International Women’s Day.

The 10 000 euro “Women, Sowers of Development” prize for a Caritas project is awarded to Caritas Nicaragua for empowering rural women to grow more food to eat and to sell. The Caritas programme gives farmers seeds, training, and irrigation systems like motorised pumps and hoses.

In villages near Juigalpa in Nicaragua, Caritas helps farmers grow more food. Caritas distributes seeds, helps construct irrigation systems, trains people in how to fight pests, and more. Photo by Laura Sheahen/Caritas

In villages near Juigalpa in Nicaragua, Caritas helps farmers grow more food. Women farmers have been able to feed their families and sell produce to earn money. Photo by Laura Sheahen/Caritas

“In communities where women are sometimes devalued, these women farmers have been able to change their lives for the better,” says Juana Bertha Duarte Somoza, a Caritas Nicaragua staff member who accompanied farmer Alba Marina Rosales Ruiz to Rome for the Voices of Faith ceremony.

“The ‘Women, Sowers of Development’ award makes the work of women visible and empowers them to speak out for themselves,” says Martina Liebsch, director of advocacy for Caritas Internationalis. “Women are using their talents and being valued for what they do. The prize money should encourage them to continue their journey to help themselves, their families and their communities. Hopefully other women will be inspired by their example.”

Desperate refugee women start over

Basmeh and Zeitooneh, an association helping refugee women who live in Lebanon, will receive the 10 000 euro prize for a non-Caritas project. Having fled the devastating war in Syria, many refugee women are alone with their children and have no way to earn a living. Basmeh and Zeitooneh runs an embroidery programme and other projects that help refugee women—both Syrian and Palestinian—support their families.

Syrian refugee women work on cross stitching embroidery at the centre of Basmeh and Zeitooneh, 10 February 2015. Photo by Dalia Khamissy/Caritas

Syrian refugee women work on cross stitching embroidery at the centre of Basmeh and Zeitooneh, 10 February 2015. Photo by Dalia Khamissy/Caritas

“These women are brave,” says Reem Alhaswani, a Syrian refugee herself who started Basmeh and Zeitooneh with other community leaders. “We were able through our activities to turn this tragic situation into a fresh start for the women.”

Says Chantal Goetz, founder of Voices of Faith: “We are very happy to partner with Caritas Internationalis on this prize to recognise the best ideas of women. Women have practical ideas on how to meet everyday challenges, but are seldom given the opportunity to share them in a meaningful way. It is our goal to create more collaboration with Catholic organisations so that we can take advantage of each other’s strengths and promote solutions that work.”

Women’s voices at the Vatican

In addition to the prize winners, the press conference featured a speaker from the second annual Voices of Faith storytelling event, to be held on 8 March at the Casina Pio IV in the heart of the Vatican. Mary McFarland shared highlights of her upcoming talk “From Teacher to Student to Teacher: A Living Conversation about Education in Refugee Camps”.  McFarland, Founder and International Director of Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins, gave a touching presentation of the hope that comes with the gift of education. On Women’s Day, she and other women will speak about their work in accompanying the poor, upholding human dignity and promoting equality.

For bios and photos please go to .

About Voices of Faith

Voices of Faith is a core initiative of the Liechtenstein-based Fidel Götz Foundation, whose work aims to enrich the lives of women and girls globally. The Foundation supports different initiatives within the Vatican and works with global Catholic organisations to develop and implement programmes that produce results. For more information about the FGF go to:

About Caritas Internationalis

Caritas Internationalis is the official humanitarian and development organisation of the Catholic Church, dedicated to serving the poor and promoting charity and justice. Inspired by the Gospels and Catholic teaching, the more than 160 national members of Caritas Internationalis seek to promote peace between peoples, sustainable development, the right to food, safe migration, decent work and good health.

Media contacts

Voices of Faith storytelling event:
Mr. Sigvard Wohlwend
+423 792 50 32
Women, Sowers of Development prize
Ms. Laura Sheahen
+39 335 823 4233


Please give to Caritas generously. Your support makes our work possible.


Caritas brought together a collection of prayers and reflections for you to use.


Volunteers make a crucial contribution. Find out how you can be one.