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Lawyer and vegetable seller win Asian 'Nobel Prize'

Two women awarded for their courage and generosity

Lawyer and vegetable seller win Asian 'Nobel Prize' reporter, Bangkok

July 26, 2012

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A Supreme Court lawyer from Bangladesh known for her determination in tackling sensitive environmental and social cases and a vegetable vendor from Taiwan were among the winners of this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award, often dubbed 'Asia’s Nobel Prize'. Also honored were scientists from Cambodia and the Philippines who have helped transform yields for poor farmers, Yang Saing Koma and Romulo Davide, an Indonesian natural-resources advocacy leader Ambrosius Ruwindrijarto and Kulandei Francis, a philanthropist who started a women’s self-help group in rural India. Syeda Rizwana Hasan was recognized for “her uncompromising courage and impassioned leadership in a campaign of judicial activism in Bangladesh that affirms the people’s right to a good environment as nothing less than their right to dignity and life.” The 44-year-old judge, who has won a string of awards and was a TIME magazine environmental hero in 2009, famously took on the shipbreaking industry in Chittagong for breaching environmental and health rules. “My job is ... to give the message to the people that the law and lawyers don’t always exist for the mightiest,” she said after the award was announced. A former student of the elite Viqarunnisa Noon School in Dhaka, Hasan’s upbringing contrasts sharply with that of Taiwanese winner Chen Shu-chu, a grocery vendor who came from a poor family and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to help children trapped in poverty. Having witnessed the death of her mother and younger brother at a young age, Chen turned anti-social but she says her anger melted away when she turned to Buddhism and then started selling vegetables aged 13 to help generate income for her family. After running her small vegetable stall in Taitung County for nearly half a century, she donated a quarter of a million US dollars from her meager profits to build a children’s library - among other projects - at a school she herself attended. During her long yet humble career she has regularly repeated the same motto: “Money serves its purpose only when it is used for those who need it.”
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