By Matters India Reporter
Manila: Two Indians are among six winners of this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award, Asia’s counterpart to the Nobel Peace Prize.
The award winners were announced on July 26 in Manila, capital of the Philippines.
The Indian awardees are Bharat Vatwani, a psychiatrist who has spent nearly 30 years among mentally ill people after an encounter with a schizophrenic on a Mumbai street, and Sonam Wangchuk, an education reformist who has helped young people in Ladakh to improve their life opportunities.
Other winners are Youk Chhang from Cambodia, Maria de Lourdes Martins Cruz from East Timor, Howard Dee from the Philippines and Vo Thi Hoang Yen rom Vietnam. The Cambodian has spent his life chronicling the horrific, genocidal reign of the Pol Pot regime in the late 1970s.
The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation President Carmencita Abella said the winners “are clearly Asia’s heroes of hope, moving their societies forward through their unequivocal pursuit of the larger good.
“In genuine solidarity with the disadvantaged and marginalized, each one has addressed real and complex issues with bold, and creative, and pragmatic action that has engaged others to do likewise. The results of their leadership are manifest in the changed lives of the many they have influenced,” she said.
Established in 1957, the Ramon Magsaysay Award is Asia’s highest honor. It celebrates the memory and leadership example of the third Philippine president after whom the award is named, and is given every year to individuals or organizations in Asia who manifest the same selfless service and transformative influence that ruled the life of the Filipino leader.
The award winners will each receive a certificate, a medallion bearing the likeness of the late President, and a cash prize. They will be conferred the Magsaysay Award during formal presentation ceremonies scheduled for August 31 at the Cultural Centre of the Philippines.
This year’s recipients bring the total number of Magsaysay laureates to 330.
Vatwani set up the Shraddha Rehabilitation Foundation in 1989 at Karjat, some 65 km southeast of Mumbai, to find, restore and reunite the mentally ill destitute back with their families.
He and his wife Smitha, who is also a psychiatrist, decided to start a rehabilitation home for mentally ill destitute after their encounter with a vagabond in the street.
“I was so moved by the plight of this boy that I decided to take care of him. After treating him, I was shocked to learn of his identity. He was a BSc graduate with a diploma in medical laboratory technology and his father was a superintendent in Andhra Pradesh,” Vatwani said in an earlier interview.
So far, his organization has reunited more than 2,000 destitute people with their families since the inception.
The Magsaysay foundation says it recognized Vatwani for “his tremendous courage and healing compassion in embracing India’s mentally-afflicted destitute, and his steadfast and magnanimous dedication to the work of restoring and affirming the human dignity of even the most ostracized.
Wangchuk is the founding-director of the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh, founded in 1988 by a group of students who had been in his own words, the ‘victims’ of an alien education system foisted on Ladakh. He is also known for designing the campus that runs on solar energy and uses no fossil fuels for cooking, lighting or heating.
Wangchuk was instrumental in the launch of Operation New Hope in 1994, a collaboration of government, village communities and the civil society to bring reforms in the government school system. He invented the Ice Stupa technique that creates artificial glaciers, used for storing winter water in form of conical shaped ice heap.
He is being recognized 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,” it said.
He came into the spotlight in 2009, when his story inspired Aamir Khan’s character Phunsukh Wangdu or Rancchoddas Shyamaldas Chanchad (Rancho) in the Rajkumar Hirani directed film 3 Idiots.