A Mumbai-based doctor, who set up a rehabilitation foundation to rescue mentally-ill persons living on the streets, along with a widely known Ladakhi engineer and education reformist, are among the six personalities named for this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award.
Bharat Vatwani, who has been recognised for “his tremendous courage and healing compassion in embracing India’s mentally-afflicted destitute”, started an informal operation of bringing mentally-ill street persons to their private clinic for treatment.
Vatwani established Shraddha Rehabilitation Foundation in 1988, aimed at rescuing mentally-ill persons living on the streets; providing free shelter, food, and psychiatric treatment; and reuniting them with their families.
“Their rescue work has been aided by the police, social workers, and referrals. Shraddha’s free custodial care and treatment ranges from personal hygiene, medical check-ups, psychiatric treatment, to appropriate medication — all done in the open, healing environment of the Karjat facility,” the board of trustees noted in a statement.
Sonam Wangchuk, who inspired actor Aamir Khan’s character in “Three Idiots”, has been recognised for “his uniquely systematic, collaborative and community-driven reform of learning systems in remote northern India, thus improving the life opportunities of
Ladakhi youth, and his constructive engagement of all sectors in local society to harness science and culture creatively for economic progress, thus setting an example for minority peoples in the world”.
Wangchuk was a 19-year-old engineering student at the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar when he went into tutoring to finance his schooling and help woefully unprepared students pass the national college matriculation exams.
In 1988, after earning his engineering degree, Wangchuk founded Students’ Education and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) and started coaching Ladakhi students, 95 per cent of whom used to fail the government exams. In 1994, with Wangchuk in the lead, “Operation New Hope” (ONH) was launched to expand and consolidate the partnership-driven educational reform programme.
“Taking a life of its own, to date ONH has trained 700 teachers, 1,000 VEC leaders, and dramatically increased the success rate of students in matriculation exams from just 5 per cent in 1996 to 75 per cent by 2015,” the board of trustees said in a statement.
The other recipients of the annual honour include Cambodia’s Youk Chhang, who has been honoured for “preserving historical memory for healing and justice”; Maria de Lourdes Martins Cruz from East Timor for “building a caring society brick by brick”; Howard Dee of Philippines for “Championing the human face of peace, justice and economic growth”; and Vietnam’s Vo Thi Hoang Yen for “Claiming opportunities for the differently abled”.
The Ramon Magsaysay Award, recognised as Asia’s premier prize, is now in its 60th year of “honouring greatness of spirit and transformative leadership in selfless service to the peoples of Asia”.
Since its inception, over 330 individuals and organisations have joined the distinguished community of Ramon Magsaysay awardees.
The prestigious award is given to persons — regardless of race, nationality, creed or gender — who address issues of human development in Asia with courage and creativity, and in doing so have made contributions which have transformed their societies for the better.