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2023 Magsaysay Award goes to Asians for transforming lives

Transformative work of the awardees are 'redefining inclusivity in these modern yet troubled times'
Dr. Ravi Kannan R., an Indian cancer specialist, is seen at his desk. He is among the four winners of this year's Ramon Magsaysay Award

Dr. Ravi Kannan R., an Indian cancer specialist, is seen at his desk. He is among the four winners of this year's Ramon Magsaysay Award. (Photo: Ramon Magsaysay Foundation)

Published: August 31, 2023 07:44 AM GMT
Updated: August 31, 2023 09:43 AM GMT

An Indian healthcare pioneer, a peacemaker from the Philippines, a food sovereignty champion from Timor-Leste and a young Bangladeshi social entrepreneur have won 2023 Ramon Magsaysay Award, dubbed the Asian Nobel Prize.

The Board of Trustees of the Manila-based Ramon Magsaysay Foundation named the winners on Aug. 31, the foundation said in a press release.

Ravi Kannan R., 59, an Indian doctor has been honored for his work as a “Hero for Holistic Healthcare.”

Kannan, a cancer specialist, joined Cachar Cancer Hospital and Research Center (CCHRC) in Assam state of northeast India in 2007 as the director, the first fully trained oncologist to fill the position.

The center, a non-profit organization, offers life-saving services to people in a largely rural, agricultural and impoverished region. Kannan left his job as the head of the surgical oncology department at the Adyar Cancer Institute in Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state in southern India.

He reportedly surprised many by exchanging a position in a big city for a small hospital in a remote part of the country. Kannan said that “he was there where he was most needed.”

Under Kannan’s leadership, the CCHRC became a fully-fledged cancer hospital and research center. It now has twenty-eight departments covering oncology, pathology, radiology, microbiology, epidemiology, tumor registry and palliative care, and other services and specializations. From twenty-three staff, the hospital now employs 451 people. It caters to about 20,000 poor patients annually including 5,000 new patients who get free or subsidized cancer care treatments.

Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, 64, has been involved in political issues since the late 1970s when she joined resistance forces against martial law in the Philippines. After the fall of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, she devoted herself to seeking a peaceful resolution to many armed conflicts in the country.

She joined other women peace builders to initiate the drafting of the first National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, which was adopted by the government in 2010. The plan has been accepted as a UN Security Council Resolution. The landmark document urges all member states to ensure the protection of women’s rights during armed conflicts, mainstream the gender perspective in peacekeeping and peace building, and to advance the role of women as peace builders at all levels.

She became a member of a government panel tasked with negotiating with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a major armed Muslim insurgent group. She became the chief government negotiator in 2012.

In 2014, the Philippine government and MILF signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), ushering in a transition process that created the new Bangsamoro entity with a more empowered autonomous government. The agreement also provided a process for the decommissioning of weapons and combatants and the transformation of conflict-affected areas into peaceful civilian communities.

The CAB has been described by international observers as a model for the integration of gender-responsive provisions and the inclusive participation of women and civil society organizations.

She has been involved in peace-building teams looking into conflicts in Timor Leste and Cambodia. She provided support work for the peace programs of the Carter Center in its work in Sudan and Syria. In 2018, she became a member of the United Nations Standby Team of Senior Mediation Advisers and she has been deployed to support the mediation and preventive diplomacy work of UN missions in places like Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq, the Maldives, and the ASEAN region.

In 2020, Coronel-Ferrer co-founded the Southeast Asian Women Peace Mediators, a pioneering group of women engaged in convening safe spaces for dialogues and supporting mediation initiatives in countries like Myanmar and Afghanistan.

Eugenio Lemos, 51, is a food sovereignty visionary from Timor-Leste, who lived through the turbulent years of his country’s struggle for independence from Indonesian occupation and the bitter civil war until 2002.

The conflict left the economy devastated, pushing 40 percent of the nation’s mostly rural population into poverty. Lemos, born in a peasant family, and who lost his father and siblings in the war, has dedicated his life to promoting innovation in agriculture.

After studying agriculture in a local university, Lemos started a group to promote organic farming. In 1999, an Australian permaculture trainer, who was in Timor-Leste to train farmers in sustainable agriculture, introduced Lemos to permaculture, a holistic system for creating and managing sustainable agrosystems. It was not simply about transferring technologies but the cultivation of an ethos of responsible relations to nature and people, expressed in the words “earth care, people care, and fair share.”

Lemos saw that many elements of this system were already present in traditional Timorese culture and he resolved that this was something he would devote himself to promoting among his people.

In 2001, Lemos established Permakultura Timor-Lorosa’e (Permatil). It has three main programs. A Youth Training Program that organizes three-day camps for youths 17 years old or older, involving learning-and-fun activities in water and natural resource management, farming, aquaculture, and agroforestry. Another camp for kids 12 to 16 was later added, with simpler activities like gardening and preparing organic food.

A School Garden Program implemented in public primary schools in which students tend vegetable gardens and learn composting, natural pest control, seed selection, and other skills. There is also a Water and Natural Resource Management Program that promotes “rainwater harvesting” by building ponds, swales, and terraces that store water, recharge aquifers, and regenerate springs.

Since 2008, the youth camp has trained more than 5,000 youths across the country. The School Garden Program has been established in more than 250 schools and, since 2015, has been integrated in the national public school curriculum.

Permatil’s Water and Natural Resource Management Program has been introduced in all 13 administrative districts of Timor-Leste. More than 1,000 water collection ponds have been built and 300 springs revived, beneftting over 400,000 residents or almost a third of the country’s population.

Korvi Rakshand, 38, is a Bangladeshi social entrepreneur and “Education-for-All Champion.”

In Bangladesh, one of the world’s most populous and poorest nations, where access to education is crucial to overcoming poverty, Rakshand has pioneered education for unprivileged people.

A law graduate from the University of London, he decided to leave lucrative careers in law and business. He and six friends joined hands to teach English to poor children living in a slum in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka. Their first group involved 17 students.

This initiative paved the way for establishing the JAAGO (Wake Up) Foundation, a non-profit organization, in 2007. It aimed to address problems of access and quality education for underprivileged children.

Today, the foundation is one of the largest non-profit organizations in Bangladesh focusing on education. It provides free of cost, government-recognized English-language primary and secondary education to underprivileged children through eleven traditional and online schools in ten districts.

Students are provided free uniforms and school supplies, food, personal hygiene items, health check-ups, and medicines. Over the years, it has offered education and other services to about 30,000 students.

JAAGO’s success and rising reputation as a change maker have enabled its expansion into other areas. A major initiative is its Volunteer for Bangladesh (VBD) program, established in 2011. It seeks to involve youths in positive social change through capacity building, youth led community participatory campaigns and mobilization for humanitarian assistance to build a skilled Bangladesh. This fostered such wide enthusiasm that the VBD is now a movement of 50,000 youth leaders.

JAAGO’s programs have evolved into other themes, such as women's empowerment and children’s rights, climate change, democracy and governance.

The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation chairperson Aurelio R. Montinola III said that through their transformative work, the awardees “are redefining inclusivity in these modern yet troubled times. At its core, their collective message is very simple yet often forgotten: treat one another with love, care and respect.”

The award ceremony will be held on Nov. 11 this year in Manila.

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Hearty congratulations.
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