Ramon Magsaysay Awardees Bring Hope and Peace to Asia

Ramon Magsaysay Awardees Bring Hope and Peace to Asia
Photo Credit: Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation

What you need to know

The Philippine-run program The Ramon Magsaysay Award, regarded as Asia's equivalent of the Nobel Prize,  announced the list of six 2018 winners from various countries in Asia.

The Ramon Magsaysay Award, which is internationally recognized as Asia’s Nobel Prize counterpart, announced its six awardees for 2018, with the winners hailing from South and Southeast Asian countries.

The winners of the 2018 Magsaysay Awards are Youk Chhang of Cambodia; Maria de Lourdes Martins Cruz of Timor Leste; Howard Dee, a Filipino with Chinese heritage, who was a former Ambassador to the Holy See and Malta; India's Bharat Vatwani and Sonam Wangchuk, and Vietnam's Vo Thi Hoang Yen.

Youk Chhang from Cambodia has contributed heavily to preserving the history and records of the Cambodian genocide. At the age of 57, he has been the head of the Documentation Center of Cambodia for more than 20 years, investing the majority of his life in recording and investigating the atrocities in the 1970s, when millions of Cambodians were killed by the Khmer Rouge.

The Documentation Center of Cambodia functions to help victims ease their suffering and ensure that future generations will never forget these events. Youk Chhang, who was himself tortured by the Khmer Rouge and personally witnessed the death of many of his family members at the hands of the regime, stated that his mother's suffering during that tragic period served as motivations for his work. "I do this for my mother who suffered… I want her to be a free woman, not to carry all the tragedy in her heart and in her life,” he said.

Photo credit: reuters/達志影像
Youk Chhang has run the Documentation Center of Cambodia for more than 20 years, and is committed to investigating the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge

Maria de Lourdes Martins Cruz is from Timor Leste, and is popularly known as "Mana Lou." In 1989, she founded Instituto Seculare Maun Alin Iha Kristu (ISMAIK), aka the Secular Institute of Brothers and Sisters in Christ, a lay institute dedicated to improving the lives of the poverty stricken through health care, education, farming, animal husbandry, and other self-help initiatives. In addition, Mana Lou partnered with an American doctor to establish the Bairo-Ata Clinic, a free, high capacity clinic for the poor, which averages 300 patients a day and serves as the largest tuberculosis treatment facility in Timor Leste.

The Ramon Magsaysay Awards Committee praised Mana Lou, citing that they recognize "her pure humanitarianism in uplifting Timor Leste’s poor, her courageous pursuit of social justice and peace, and her nurturing the development of autonomous, self-reliant, caring citizens, [who are] so vital in new, post-conflict nations in the world.”

Mana Lou was also previously awarded an N-Peace Award, which recognizes individuals who work on women, peace and security by profiling, documenting and highlighting their work and achievements. in 2012.

The Filipino, Howard Dee, has devoted his life to the alleviation of poverty and the pursuit of peace and justice. Philippine newspaper Chinese Commercial News reported that Howard served as the Philippine ambassador to the Holy See and Malta from 1986 to 1990. He also served as the chief negotiator between the Philippine government and communist rebels in the mid-1990s, as well as the advisor for aboriginal affairs during the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who is now Speaker of the House.

He was hailed for "his quietly heroic half-century of service to the Filipino people" – not only has he worked tirelessly in the pursuit of social justice and peace, but the Assisi Development Foundation (ADF), a peace organization he jointly founded and has continued to spearhead until this day, has implemented more than 4,000 projects that have served over 10.5 million Filipinos since its inception.

Bharat Vatwani is an Indian psychiatrist who has dedicated his life to embracing sufferers of mental illness who have been abandoned by society. He and his wife founded the Shraddha Rehabilitation Foundation in 1988 with the aim of rescuing mentally-ill persons living on the streets; providing free shelter, food, and psychiatric treatment; and reuniting them with their families. Gradually, the scope of their services have expanded in range, covering personal hygiene, medical check-ups, as well as psychiatric treatment and appropriate medication.

The other awardee also from India, Sonam Wangchuk, whose work instead is devoted to the education of people in remote villages, was originally only an engineering student; but after obtaining his degree in 1988, he founded the Students’ Education and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) to help tutor students in Ladakh, where only around 5 percent of students were able to pass the government exam.

In 1994, he launched the "Operation New Hope (ONH)” to expand his education reform program, and to date, ONH has coached nearly a thousand teachers. The unique curriculum reforms established by Sonam Wangchuk in remote northern areas of India, has improved the lives and opportunities of the Ladakh’s youth and set an example for ethnic minorities around the world.

Vo Thi Hoang Yen grew up in a rural area of Vietnam, and contracted polio at the innocent age of two, but instead of falling into a highly dependent life, she braved discrimination and fought through the constraints of her disabilities to gain an education. In 2005, she, along with three other people with disabilities (PWDs) founded a non-profit organization, Disability Research and Capacity Development (DRD Vietnam), in Ho Chi Minh City, with the hope of creating “an equal and non-discriminatory society” for PWDs.

Over the past 13 years, DRD has provided training activities for life skills and social media, organized scholarships and work placements, set-up a website explaining disability laws and offering guides to PWD-accessible public infrastructures, all of which has assisted more than 15,000 people with disabilities. Her fearless spirit, amidst her ongoing struggles, has allowed her to flex her creative and charismatic leadership abilities, which has been the driving force behind her success in breaking down the physical and mental barriers that have marginalized PWDs in Vietnam.

The Central News Agency reported that the awards ceremony is scheduled to be held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines on Aug. 31, 2018. The winners will each be awarded a certificate, a medallion and a cash prize.

The Philippine Magsaysay Award was established in April 1957 by the trustees of the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation in New York to commemorate their friend, the President of the Philippines, Magsaysay, who was lost that year in a plane crash. The following month, seven prominent Filipinos became founding members of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation’s board of trustees to implement the awards. From its inception the foundation has awarded 324 individuals.

Individuals from Taiwan have also been lauded by the foundation over the years, and they include Chiang Mon-lin (蔣夢麟), Y. C. James Yen (晏陽初), Li Kwoh-ting (李國鼎), Hsu Shih-chu (許世鉅), Su Nan-cheng (蘇南成), Wu Ta-you (吳大猷), Diane Yin Yun-peng (殷允芃), Master Cheng-Yan (證嚴法師), Ho Ming-teh (何明德), Lin Hwai-min (林懷民), and Chen Shu-jiu (陳樹菊).

Photo Credit: AP / TPG
Praised as the altruistic vegetable vendor. Chen Shu-jiu (陳樹菊) (third from left) won the award in 2012.

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This article originally appeared on the Chinese-language Taiwan edition of The News Lens. The original can be found here.

Translator: Zeke Li

Editor: David Green (@DavidPeterGreen)