Four people were awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Prize this year, which is considered Asia’s version of the Nobel Prize.
The annual award is named after the president of the Philippines who was killed in a plane crash in 1957. The award is given to honor “great zeal in selfless service to the people of Asia.”
This year’s laureates include Cambodian Sotheara Chhim, who has led the care of thousands of survivors of the Khmer Rouge rule and other patients in her country since becoming executive director of the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization in 2002, the award’s foundation said.
As a child, he was forced to work in Khmer Rouge camps for more than three years until their rule ended in 1979.
He became one of Cambodia’s first psychiatrists after years of war, according to the Ramon Magsaysay foundation.
Meanwhile, Japanese ophthalmologist Tadashi Hattori was awarded the prize for training local doctors who treat thousands of Vietnamese.
He decided to become a doctor when he was 15 years old, when he witnessed the harsh treatment his father, who had cancer, received at the hospital.
During a visit to Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, in 2002, he was “deeply moved” when he saw how villagers were being blinded due to a lack of eye specialists and medical facilities. He then raised funds, trained experts and donated equipment to local hospitals, the foundation said.
The next one is Gary Benchegib from France. He was awarded the award for his efforts to fight plastic pollution on the island of Bali, where his parents moved several years ago. He started his ‘war’ when he discovered that the clogging of waterways by plastic waste was such a cause for concern.
Since then, he has produced videos on plastic pollution and environmental protection, including a documentary on pollution in the Citarum River, West Java, in 2017.
“I hope that everyone here now will join me, in a modest way, in the journey of a lifetime to fight plastic pollution. I never thought I would be a scavenger. But here I am, proudly cleaning river after river in a mission to create a plastic-free world,” he said.
He and his brother then led the installation of some 170 garbage traps in polluted rivers and plans to install hundreds more in Bali and Java.
Finally, a Filipino pediatrician, Bernadette Madrid, was also awarded the Ramon Magsaysay award for her efforts to lead the country’s first child protection center at the Philippine General Hospital in Manila.
It attracts attention by providing treatment, raising awareness and engaging policy makers and community groups to tackle the problem.
Madrid won the award for its “leadership in executing multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary efforts in child protection, efforts which are admired in Asia. Also for his competence and compassion in dedicating himself to ensuring that every child victim of abuse can live in an environment that is healing, safe and nurturing,” the foundation said. [rd/ka]