A Cambodian genocide survivor who helped document the Khmer Rouge atrocities and an Indian psychiatrist who led the rescue of thousands of mentally ill street paupers to treat and reunite them with their families are among the six winners of this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Awards, regarded as Asia’s version of the Nobel Prize.
The other recipients named on Thursday are a Filipino who led peace talks with communist insurgents, a polio-stricken Vietnamese who fought discrimination against the disabled, an East Timorese who built care centers for the poor amid civil strife and an Indian who tutored village students to help them pass exams.
The awards, named after the Philippine president who died in a 1957 plane crash, are to be presented in Manila on Aug. 31.
“All are unafraid to take on large causes. All have refused to give up despite meager resources, daunting adversity and strong opposition,” Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation president Carmencita Abella said of the winners. “Their approaches are all deeply anchored on a respect for human dignity and a faith in the power of collective endeavor.”
Youk Chhang lost his father, five of his siblings and nearly 60 of his relatives during the genocidal Khmer Rouge rule in the late 1970s and subsequent civil war, but he escaped and found his way to the US as a refugee.
He returned home after order was restored and headed a center that documented the horrific violence in aid of the Khmer Rouge war crimes trials.
The massive scope of his group’s work included collecting more than 1 million documents, producing digital maps of more than 23,000 mass graves and excavating remains for forensic examination.
Youk, 57, is involved in a project to develop a museum, archives, library and a graduate program on crimes against humanity.
In India, where there are an estimated 400,000 street paupers with mental illness, psychiatrist Bharat Vatwani started a mission in 1988 that has rescued, treated and reintegrated into their families more than 7,000 of them.
Vatwani’s “healing compassion [affirmed] the human dignity of even the most ostracized in our midst,” the foundation said.
Philippine businessman Howard Dee turned to a range of civic work, including responding to widespread contingencies in the southern Philippines caused by drought, famine and insurgency-wrought violence. He served as a government negotiator in peace talks with communist rebels in the 1990s.
After contracting polio when she was two years old, Vo Thi Hoang Yen helped found a non-profit group in 2005, which has helped about 15,000 people with disabilities get jobs. A showcase project involved a motorcycle taxi service designed for the disabled.
Maria de Lourdes Martins Cruz from East Timor led efforts to help the poor get access to healthcare, education, farming and livelihood in the midst of her nation’s tumultuous transition to independence in 2001.
Born in Ladakh, a high-altitude region in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, Sonam Wangchuk fought discrimination against minorities at a young age to pursue an engineering course and founded a movement in 1988 that helped tutor poor village students so they could pass exams and pursue educational reforms.
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