Activism of all kinds is just as, if not more important, during a global pandemic. In recognizing the essential nature of humanitarian work, Portugal’s Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for underprivileged populations, created the Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity. The very first prize was awarded to Greta Thunberg, the 17-year-old Swedish climate activist.

As the recipient of the prize, Thunberg was awarded an astounding $1.14 million. True to her activist ways, she chose to donate a large portion of this prize to various causes she believes in. Most notably, she donated to an organization that helps to fight coronavirus in the Brazilian Amazon.  

A Country In Turmoil

While the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt all over the world, some countries have been harder hit than others. One of those countries is Brazil, which has both been ravaged by the virus and, at the same time, experienced a lack of leadership. Officially, there were a quarter-million people per week affected by the pandemic; most notably in cramped inner-city favelas and fringe rainforest communities. 

Despite the high number of cases, Brazil has provided 80% fewer tests per capita than the United States. Some scientists in the country expressed concern that the number of cases may be far higher than the government has reported.

In an effort to support not only the communities in turmoil, but the Amazon rainforest itself, Thunberg has chosen to allocate $114,000 of her prize money to SOS Amazônia, an organization focused on environmentalism with a mission of protecting the rainforest. The organization has also worked to help fight the pandemic and provided aid for indigenous communities who don’t have access to health and hygienic supplies and equipment.  

The work Thunberg is doing is essential not only for Brazilians, but also for the rest of us. That’s because the Amazon rainforest is a haven of biodiversity, that plays host to approximately one tenth of the world’s wildlife. It also plays an important role in decreasing the rate of climate change because it absorbs a huge amount of heat-trapping carbon from the atmosphere every year. Despite its important role preseving the planet, under Brazil’s current leadership, the forest is being rapidly destroyed. Just last year, 3,000 square miles were decimated by deforestation.

Spreading The Wealth

In addition to her donation to SOS Amazônia, Thunberg gave $114,000 to the Stop Ecocide Foundation. This organization is attempting to criminalize acts of environmental destruction internationally. In her Twitter announcement, she expressed her intent to place the remaining prize money into her own foundation. In turn, the foundation will put it towards causes that “help people on the front lines affected by the climate crisis and ecological crisis especially in the global South.”

Thunberg was chosen as the winner of the award out of 136 nominees from 46 countries. The chair of the Grand Jury Prize, Jorge Sampaio, who announced the winner, explained that Thunberg deserved the honor due to her ability to, “mobilize younger generations for the cause of climate change.”

Thunberg has been doing just that since the age of 15, when she started to hold climate strikes at her school. Eventually her protest caught on, and she influenced thousands of teenagers across the globe to protest climate change by skipping school on Fridays. Since then, she’s continually advocated for actionable change in regards to the climate crisis and our treatment of the environment. Thanks to her hard work, Thunberg is no stranger to awards. In 2019, she was named Person of the Year by Time magazine’s and was also a contender for the Nobel Peace Prize.