3 individuals, Rotary Club to receive humanitarian honors

3 individuals, Rotary Club to receive humanitarian honors

CHAMPAIGN – Three area professionals and a civic club will be honored at the Champaign-Urbana International Humanitarian Awards dinner from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the "I" Hotel and Conference Center in Champaign.

Individuals to be recognized are Mohammad Al-Heeti, for trade and business; and Paul McNamara and Madhubalan Viswanathan, both for research and education.

The Champaign West Rotary Club will receive an organization award for its work in humanitarian relief.

The awards dinner will include international entertainment by the Trioka Bali Dance Group and Chai-Town, an "a capella" group from the University of Illinois, as well as an international art exhibition. Mike Haile of WDWS/WHMS Radio will serve as master of ceremonies.

Tickets to the dinner are $30 and must be purchased in advance. They can be obtained by calling Champaign's Community Relations Department, 403-8830, or visiting the department's office at the Champaign City Building, 102 N. Neil St., C.

The awards were created in 2003 to honor those whose work has contributed to international understanding, cooperation, friendship and development. The awards also recognize Champaign County's international contributions and commitments in agriculture, hospitality, humanitarian relief, human rights, research/education and trade and business.

Al-Heeti is the owner of World Harvest Foods, an international and gourmet food store in Champaign that sells thousands of products from many continents. He came from Iraq in the early 1980s and earned a doctorate in plant pathology from the University of Illinois.

He then opened his first business, Hop-N-Shop, a convenience store in Urbana. Later, he opened other businesses, including Basmati Restaurant, Jerusalem Restaurant, Sayyarah Auto Sales and Alps Food Mart.

He regularly supports local nonprofit groups, international student groups at the UI, WILL radio and TV and local schools.

McNamara, an associate professor in the UI's Department of Agricultual and Consumer Economics, has done research, outreach and teaching in consumer economics and health economics. His current projects involve rural health, nutrition and health, food demand analysis and food security, consumer finance and long-term care.

He interned for seven months with a community development project in the Philippines. The goal was to improve the livelihood of villagers through water and sanitation improvements, agricultural marketing, new farming practices, advocacy and adult education.

The experience inspired McNamara to make a long-term commitment to help improve the lives of rural poor, especially in improving health services and livelihoods through economic development.

Viswanathan, a UI associate professor of marketing, is founder and director of the Marketplace Literacy Project, which aims to improve the practices of businesses, educators and policy-makers in serving poor people's needs.

He believes teaching the poor to become better-informed buyers and sellers will complement other efforts to fight poverty. His team has developed materials for nutritional education programs in Illinois and a marketplace literacy program in India.

His books include "Measurement Error and Research Design" and "Enabling Consumer and Entrepreneurial Literacy in Subsistence Marketplaces."

Champaign West Rotary Club's first major international project of its own was building a cottage for eight homeless children and two house parents in Azacualpa, Honduras. The club raised more than $20,000 to build the cottage and help sponsor a child for a year. Club members also traveled to Honduras and worked on the site.

The club has also paid for a playground fencing project and sent supplies and equipment there. Planned projects include supporting a college scholarship program for children living in the home and paying for a septic system to serve 15 homes in that town. The system itself was designed by a club member.

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