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One Year Later: 2014 Goldman Prize winners reflect on their journeys (Part 2)

Helen Slottje

April 8, 2015

On Monday, April 28, 2014, we celebrated the 25th Annual Goldman Environmental Prize ceremony in San Francisco. Six outstanding individuals from around the world were awarded the Prize for their environmental accomplishments. Today, in the second part of this two part series, we’ll check in with Helen Slottje, Suren Gazaryan and Rudi Putra about their first year as Goldman Prize winners.

Helen Slottje was awarded the Prize for providing pro-bono legal assistance to towns across New York to pass local bans against fracking. A few weeks after being awarded the Prize, Slottje and her team celebrated a major victory in June 2014 when the New York State Court of Appeals ruled in their favor that towns could indeed use zoning ordinances to ban fracking.

“It’s hard to believe that a year has almost passed since the 2014 Goldman Prize ceremony,” Slottje commented. “When I look back over the last year, I see our most gratifying victory as the New York State Court of Appeals ruling. It will be wonderful to see what victories the 2015 Prize winners bring to the table.”

Helen Slottje

In his acceptance speech at the 2014 Goldman Prize ceremony, Prize winner Suren Gazaryan told the story of his colleague Evgeny Vitishko, an environmental activist from Russia who was sentenced to three years in a penal colony for his role in exposing illegal construction in a national forest and speaking openly about the environmental impact of the Sochi Olympic Games’ construction.

Gazaryan, who was awarded the Prize for exposing government corruption and illegal exploitation of federally protected forestland along Russia’s Black Sea coast, was forced to flee to Estonia to avoid arrest.

In his speech, Gazaryan appealed to the audience to show their support for Vitishko by following the Free Vitishko movement on Facebook, concluding with “freedom for Evgeny Vitishko and other environmental activists!”

Since that time, several Goldman Prize winner have responded to Gazaryan’s appeal – posting video messages affirming their support for Vitishko and calling on the Russian government for his immediate and unconditional release. You can see appeals from Prize winners Jonathan Deal, Randall Arauz, Evgenia Chirikova and Felicano dos Satos by clicking here.

Suren Gazaryan giving his acceptance speech at the 2014 Goldman Prize ceremony

Next we caught up with 2014 Goldman Prize winner Rudi Putra from Indonesia. Rudi was in California in October as part of his involvement with the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).

Putra was chosen to be part of a select cohort of Indonesian civil society and government leaders working on biodiversity conservation issues that were invited to the US to meet with State Department officials, NGOs and their US counterparts to share strategies and learn from each other’s efforts.

A biologist by training, Putra works to protect the habitat of the critically endangered Sumatran rhino, by dismantling illegal palm oil plantations that are causing massive deforestation in northern Sumatra’s Leuser Ecosystem.

Rudi Putra

Shortly after receiving the Prize, Rudi and his team secured an agreement with the Aceh government, increasing support for his efforts to protect the Leuser. Over the summer, Rudi also led his team in the reconstruction of the community’s research station inside the Leuser.

Today he continues his work in the field to dismantle illegal plantations and raise awareness about the impacts of palm oil production.

Looking back on all that the 2014 Goldman Prize winners accomplished over the past year makes us even more excited to share the stories of the 2015 Goldman Prize winners. Look for the big announcement on Monday, April 20.

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