Courage and selfless commitment characterize the two humanitarians honored at a tribute organized by the Association for Human Rights and Tolerance of Italy and the Human Rights Office of the Church of Scientology of Milan. 

The Association for Human Rights and Tolerance of Italy and the Human Rights Office of the Church of Scientology of Milan together honored Italian filmmaker Maurizio de Romedis and search-and-rescue icon Héctor Méndez as recipients of the Eighth Annual Human Rights Hero Awards during a dinner presentation. Both men have been involved in extraordinary (indeed heroic) deeds that positively impacted thousands of lives.

 When de Romedis learned the plight of a Maasai women living in a primitive Kenyan village near the border of Tanzania, he knew he had to do something to change it. The women were forced to walk an astounding eight hours daily to fetch uncontaminated water for members of their families.

Struck by the pivotal role water plays in the lives of the people of East Africa, de Romedis soon became a member of the board of the international nonprofit, AMREF, and formed his own NGO through which he has provided 855 wells, each dug by hand with the help of local people and benefitting some 100 individuals apiece.

Known as Icio to his friends in Africa (the name of his NGO), de Romedis recently learned of a school that was destroyed by a wind storm in Southern Kenya, displacing hundreds of children. “With the help and support of many friends,” says de Romedis, “a primary school in Esukutav was built for 250 children.”

The winner of the evening’s second Human Rights Hero Award had a valid reason for not being able to accept the honor in person. On the eve of the award event, on April 30, Héctor Méndez and his team of 16 volunteers flew to Nepal to help that nation in the wake of the April 25 earthquake and subsequent aftershocks.

Since 1985, when a massive 8.1 earthquake devastated Mexico City, Méndez has been responding to the world’s most dangerous disasters. It was then that he formed the volunteer search-and-rescue group known as Los Topos Aztecas, (The Moles), a name they earned by their willingness to crawl beneath rubble and collapsed buildings in search of victims.

Over the past 30 years, Méndez and his team have participated in rescue operations in more than 22 countries, from 9/11 in New York to the Haitian earthquake in 2010, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2011 and Italy’s 2009 Abruzzo quake.

Presenting the awards was the Association of Human Rights and Tolerance Italy President, Fiorella Cerchiara. The association is a nonprofit organization that promotes human rights awareness through education in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and via human rights projects that protect and defend the rights of others.

Scientologists on five continents engage in collaborative efforts with government agencies and nongovernmental organizations to bring about broad-scale awareness and implementation of the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the world’s premier human rights document.