MANILA - Four individuals from different parts of Asia who lead transformative initiatives toward humanitarian and environmental advocacies were conferred on Wednesday this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award, the region's highest honor and version of the Nobel Prize.
Among them is Filipina pediatrician Bernadette Madrid, who heads a multi sectoral, multidisciplinary effort in child protection.
Madrid devoted her career to setting up a medical system for abused children. As head of the Child Protect Network, Madrid designed programs, and engaged with stakeholders and policymakers in advancing the cause of child protection. She has been at the forefront of efforts to provide medical, legal, and psychosocial care to children and women who are victims of abuse.
“Violence against children is a crisis. Children are fast becoming an endangered species, and with them goes our humanity,” Madrid said in her speech during the awarding ceremony held at the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation Center in Manila and also live-streamed online.
“The Ramon Magsaysay Award has made me realize how much people care and that we are not alone,” she added.
Environmental advocate Gary Bencheghib from Indonesia is also among the recipients of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for his fight against marine plastic pollution, and efforts to clean up Indonesia's polluted waterways.
Bencheghib produced videos on plastic pollution and environmental protection seen by millions. He and his team kayaked and filmed an expedition on the Citarum river, one of the most polluted rivers in the world. It generated wide public interest and triggered the Indonesian government to embark on a seven-year Citarum River rehabilitation program.
Bencheghib and his siblings established Sungai Watch in 2020, which puts up trash barriers in rivers to collect the garbage.
“I am deeply honored to be receiving the Ramon Magsaysay Award for my work as a garbage man,” Bencheghib said.
“We need a radical shift in how we think and how we use plastics. And it starts directly in our rivers, where we can still stop this disaster from destroying our planet and our health,” he added.
Japanese opthalmologist Tadashi Hattori was honored for providing free eye surgeries in Vietnam, training Vietnamese doctors, and donating equipment and supplies to hospitals.
The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation said it was "the embodiment of individual social responsibility."
“I am in no way an elite doctor. I am just filled with joy when patients smile when they see light again… Regaining vision is not only about being able to see, but about discovering hope in life,” Hattori said.
Another recipient is Sotheara Chhim, a psychiatrist, mental health advocate, and survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s.
Chhim assumed a leading role in mental health as executive director of Cambodia’s Transcultural Psychosocial Organization, the largest non-government organization in the field of mental health care and psychosocial support in the Southeast Asian country. Its activities include gender-based violence counseling for victims of rape, forced marriages, and other forms or violence against women.
TPO worked on the “Truth, Trauma, and Victims of Torture” project at the time the Khmer Rouge Tribunal was investigating the Cambodian genocide. Chhim took part as an expert witness.
“This award comes with a prize money. I am donating all this to TPO’s initiative, 'Operation Unchain Project', to continue to treat and unchain more patients who are in need of help. I will continue to implement this project until there are no more patients chained in the country,” Chhim said.
The awarding ceremony was in hybrid format following the easing of COVID-19 protocols, with the physical program held for the first time at the Ramon Magsaysay Center along Roxas Boulevard.
Six decades since the award’s creation, 344 individuals and organizations in Asia have been honored with the Ramon Magsaysay Award for working on a wide range of economic, social and political issues.
This year’s awardees expressed hope their work will inspire others to support their cause and serve their communities.