When Keiko Kiyama went to Yugoslavia in the early 1990s to help people in the war-torn region, many Japanese probably thought her a bit eccentric.

Now, the 45-year-old is viewed as a role model for many young people who want to engage in a seemingly unconventional job.

Earlier this week, Kiyama, secretary general of the nonprofit organization Japan Emergency NGOs, won the Woman of the Year 2006 Grand Prize, set up by the monthly magazine Nikkei Woman to honor working women who have taken initiatives in various fields.