Two Indian nationals, Bharat Vatwani and Sonam Wangchuk, on Friday, August 31st, were given the Ramon Magsaysay award, popularly known as Asia’s Nobel Prize.
At a ceremony in Manila, Cambodian activist Youk Chhang, Filipino Howard Dee, Vietnam’s Vo Thi Hoang Yen and East Timore’s Maria de Lourdes Martins Cruz were also honored for their work.
“All are unafraid to take on large causes. All have refused to give up despite meagre resources, daunting adversity and strong opposition,” Carmencita Abella, president of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation said, Efe reported.
Vatwani has dedicated his life for rescuing mentally ill people from the streets of India – who number around 400,000 according to estimates – and providing them with shelter and treatment through his Shraddha Rehabilitaion Foundation.
Since 1988, Vatwani has helped around 7,000 mental patients, reuniting many of them with their families.
Wangchuk 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”.
Chhang survived the large-scale violence and oppression of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia and returned to his country after living in exile to head the Documentation Center, which has gathered evidence about the regime’s crimes against humanity.
The institution has collected and digitized around a million documents since 1995 from around 23,000 forced-labour camps, where around two million people were killed, and recorded the testimonies of around 10,000 victims and aggressors.
Dee, the former Philippine ambassador to the Vatican and Malta, as well as a former negotiator with the communist rebels, was honoured for working for peace through sustainable development and poverty reduction in areas affected by armed conflict.
Dee founded the Assisi Development Foundation in 1975 along with Jesuit priest Francisco Araneta and the organization has carried out more than 4,100 projects benefiting around 10.5 million Filipinos.
Martins Cruz established the Secular Institute of Brothers and Sisters in Christ, which takes care of the poorest sections of the society in East Timor with projects in health, education and agriculture, while Vietnam’s Vo Thi Hoang Yen has dedicated herself to improving the quality of life of people with disabilities.