Manila, Philippines — A Filipino university professor who became a peace negotiator and helped alleviate decades of Muslim insurgent violence in his country and an Indian doctor, who chose to work in a remote rural area helping cancer patients in desperate need of medical help, were among those people. who this year won the Ramon Magsaysay Prizes, considered the Asian version of the Nobel Prize.
Other winners announced on Thursday were a London-trained lawyer who gave up a privileged life in Bangladesh to lead a movement providing education for poor children and a farmer from East Timor, who uses his songs to campaign for food security and environmental protection.
These annual awards are named after a Philippine president who died in a plane crash in 1957 and honor “greatness of spirit” in selfless service to people across Asia. The winners will receive their prizes at the Metropolitan Theater in Manila on November 11.
“They are carrying the torch of hope in Asia, illuminating the lives of millions,” said Susanna Afan, President of the Ramon Magsaysay Prize Foundation. The winners “provided their respective societies with effective and repeatable solutions to some of our most pressing challenges and reminded us all of our common humanity.”
Miriam Coronel-Ferrer is a pro-democracy and peace activist, who served as a professor of political science at the public University of the Philippines. In 2012, she was appointed government negotiator for peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, then the largest Muslim separatist group in the south of the Roman Catholic-majority country.
The talks resulted in the signing of a 2014 Muslim autonomy agreement that eased decades of deadly fighting in the southern region of Mindanao, home to Muslim minorities, and provided for the laying down of arms and the return to a normal life for tens of thousands of rebels, who were to be provided with support for their livelihoods.
After the success of the peace talks, Coronel-Ferrer continued her peace work beyond the Philippines and in 2018 became a member of a United Nations standby team of mediation advisers. For three years, she was involved in UN peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq, the Maldives and Southeast Asia, the foundation said.
“Conflicts,” Coronel-Ferrer said in a statement, “are best resolved not by the annihilation of one party, but by the mutual transformation of all actors toward a common vision and shared responsibilities.”
Indian physician Ravi Kannan R., a surgical oncologist, left a key post at the Adyar Cancer Institute, a leading cancer treatment center in the city of Chennai, southern India, to work and live in a impoverished rural area in the northeast, where access to medical care has been difficult.
In 2007, he ran the Cachar Cancer Hospital and Research Center, a small hospital of only 23 people which would later expand considerably and employ more than 450 people under his direction. It now offers free or subsidized cancer treatments to around 5,000 new patients a year. Its hospital teams travel long distances to train family members of rural patients in pain management and palliative care and provide free medicine, the foundation said.
“No one should be denied access to treatment for lack of money,” Kannan said.
He won the award for “his dedication to the highest ideals of public service in his profession, his combination of skill, commitment and compassion in pushing the boundaries of people-centered healthcare and cancer care.” and in favor of the poor and for having built, without expectation of a reward, a beacon of hope for millions of people,” the foundation said.
Eugenio Lemos, who studied agriculture and promotes organic farming in East Timor, was recognized for his work in ensuring sufficient food for the people and instilling the value of safeguarding the environment and social equality. “He’s an activist, songwriter and singer who uses his songs as a way to communicate about the social issues that matter to him,” the foundation said.
In 2001, Lemos started a group to organize training camps for young people on organic gardening and ensure water supply through “rainwater harvesting” and the construction of ponds and terraces. that store water and regenerate springs.
Since then, more than 1,000 water collection ponds have been built and 300 springs reactivated, benefiting more than 400,000 people, nearly a third of East Timor’s population, according to the foundation.
Korvi Rakshand, from Bangladesh, earned a law degree from the University of London and seemed destined for a lucrative career in law or business. Instead, he started a project with his friends in 2007 to teach poor children English to give them a better chance of finding a job.
This decision was made after he came across a group of children digging through a dump, spending time playing with them and sharing food out of empathy. As he was leaving, a little girl approached and asked him to take her home as she had none. “It shocked him and left him feeling helpless and guilty,” the foundation said.
From a single classroom with 17 students, his educational foundation now has 206 classrooms and helps 30,000 students. He has also been involved in other causes, including the promotion of democracy and good governance. She set up a project called the Safe Haven Project, which supports the physical and mental well-being of children of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar camped in Bangladesh, the foundation said.