The 63rd Ramon Magsaysay Awardees are living proof that, pandemic or not, kindness and integrity prevail

Published September 25, 2021, 11:00 PM

by Jules Vivas

Restore your faith in humanity

Cover design by the author

In periods of great despair, such as the ongoing health crisis, what everyone needs is compassion, understanding, and good leaders, people who would not only guide us through the challenge of the times but also inspire us to do good and be better humans.

To commemorate the memory, leadership, and example of the seventh Philippine President, the Ramon Magsaysay Awards is held annually. It acknowledges special individuals and/or organizations in Asia that manifest the same selfless service and transformative influence, which ruled the life of the Filipino statesman.

This distinction, Asia’s premier and highest honor likened to the Nobel Prize, is conferred on those who have made a huge positive impact on society, from social entrepreneurs to activists, from reformers to journalists and even politicians.

Some of the prominent past awardees include Mother Teresa for her missionary work for the poorest of the poor and late Philippine President Corazon Aquino for her nonviolent democratic struggle that ended the authoritarian regime of Ferdinand Marcos.

Officials from the Manila-based Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) determine the recipients of the accolade, who are then presented with a medallion bearing the image of Ramon Magsaysay, along with a certificate.

This year, RMFA grants the award to four individuals as well as one organization for their advocacies that make the world a better place.

“The pandemic is etched in history. You will always be asked by your children, nephews, nieces, ‘what did you do during those times?’” says Susan Afan, president of the RMAF, in her opening remarks. “We at the RMFA want to be remembered as the foundation that soldiered on. We didn’t collapse during this time. Yes, everyone has to face the reality that people are getting sick, many are dying, and so much more uncertainties, but we [RMFA] want to do our share by focusing on stories of courage and hope.”

Here are the laureates appreciated for their efforts, innovations, creativity, and passion to serve the people.

Roberto “Ka Dodoy” Ballon

Fisherman and community environmentalist, The Philippines

GRASP SUSTAINABILITY Ka Dodoy at one of the fisheries in his community (RMFA)

Environmentalist and Filipino fisherfolk leader, Ka Dodoy is a trained para-technician who transformed his community through a sustainable marine ecosystem.

Ka Dodoy and 30 of his fellow fishermen formed the Kapunungan sa Gamay nga Mangingisda sa Concepcion [Association of Small Fishermen of Concepcion] (KGMC) to address the rampant conversion of fishponds and the destruction of mangrove forests in Kabasalan, Mindanao, in 1986.

The organization focused on the reforestation of mangroves as well as the preservation of aqua-culture in the immediate community. KMGC’s efforts bore fruit in 2000, as they were granted tenurial rights to the reforested land through a government forestry co-management program.

“I hope this award would allow our organization and our endeavors here at Zamboanga, Sibugay, to be better understood by people from all over the world,” says Ka Dodoy. “I want to highlight the importance of cooperation, of people working together, especially in our coastal communities considered as one of the poorest sectors in the country.”

Pandemic or not, Ka Dodoy’s fishing community thrives. “Thanks to our efforts in the reforestation of the mangroves, the stopping of illegal fishing, and proper solid waste management, we have food security.”

Ka Dodoy aspires to spread his knowledge on sustainability throughout the entire country so that other fishing communities may emulate and replicate KMGC’s programs.

Muhammad Amjad Saqib

Poverty alleviation visionary, Pakistan

LOVE THY NEIGHBOR Muhammad Amjad Saqib with a person helped by Ahkuwat

In Pakistan, mass poverty is an intractable reality. Muhammad Amjad Saqib and his loan-disbursement organization are breaking fresh ground in the fight against destitution. Saqib established Akhuwat in 2003 and opened its first branch in Lahore.

Akhuwat is the largest microfinance institution in Pakistan, offering a package of interest-free loans for the impoverished. It has distributed 4.8 million loans amounting to the equivalent of $900 million, helping three million families, with a remarkable 99.9 percent repayment rate.

For Saqib, poverty can only be eradicated with bonds. “Love and solidarity are the essences of our program,” the social entrepreneur says. More than the idea of lending to the poor, what he wants to inculcate is the value of giving and returning, of integrity and honesty. He wants to teach the needy to be responsible with their finances. Ahkuwat is a movement that improves the character of people.

“If there is a vicious cycle [of greed], there is a vicious cycle [of giving] as well,” says Saqib. Poverty is not confined to finances, there is also socialism and political poverty that Akhuwat also aims to address. “We try to integrate ethical principles in them [borrowers].”

Firdausi Qadri

Affordable vaccine champion, Bangladesh

SCIENCE AND FAITH Dr. Firdausi Qadri in the lab (UNESCO)

Bangladeshi scientist Firdausi Qadri joined the International Centre For Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICCDDR, B), an international health research institute based in Dhaka in 1988. She specializes in communicable diseases, immunology, vaccine development, and clinical trials.

Dr. Qadri plays a key role in the fight against cholera and typhoid, major illnesses in Bangladesh, in Asia, Africa, and countries with poor access to water, sanitation, education, and medical care. She managed to develop a more affordable oral cholera vaccine (OCV) and the typhoid conjugate vaccine (ViTCV).

Likewise, she founded the Institute for Developing Science and Health Initiatives (ideSHi) in 2014, which is a biomedical research facility and a testing center at the same time. It has become a hub of scientific activity by local and visiting scientists in the South Asian country. Her contributions to vaccine development, advanced biotechnological therapeutics, and critical research have saved millions of lives.

“We cannot be alone in this world. I have friends all over the world who helped me do the things that I have done. We can all make good friends because people are people in the end. They have good hearts. They want to help,” Dr. Qadri beams.


Truth crusader, Indonesia

TRUTH SEEKERS Watchdoc co-founders Dandhy Dwi Laksono (front left) and Andhy Panca (front right) with some of the production house crew

Watchdoc, a portmanteau of watchdog and documentary, is a production house that ingeniously combines filmmaking and alternative platforms to bring light to underreported issues in Indonesia, from education to ecological crisis to corruption. It has produced and distributed over 150 titles that average 200,000 viewers per video, with some of its documentaries having over a million views.

RMAF recognizes the independent media organization for its “energetic use of investigative journalism, documentary filmmaking, and digital technology in its effort to transform Indonesia’s media landscape, and its commitment to a vision of the people themselves as makers of media and shapers of their own world.”

Co-founder and program manager, Dandhy Laksono, received the Emergent Leadership Award, for Watchdoc. This is the first time the Emergent Leadership Award is bestowed upon an organization.

“I worked with several TV stations before. Some cover up human rights violations, just because they [broadcast station] are in ties with the military. They sacrifice the complete story just to stay on good terms with the officers of the police,” narrates Dandhy on how he decided to create Watchdoc. “The media itself is part of a ventricle of big corporations. So, it’s impossible for them to explore more of the public perspective of issues.”

Watchdoc’s goal is to help the community amplify themselves, for them to be able to reach a wider audience as well as the decision-makers. “Filmmaking is not just art. It is also a social movement,” Dandhy ends.

Steven Muncy

Humanitarian and peace builder, Southeast Asia

WORK WITH PEOPLE Steven Muncy addresses the staff during the reopening of CSFI field office in Marawi City, Lanao Del Sur, December, 2017 (JR Roque for CFSI)

Steven Muncy, an American humanitarian, has done a lot to change thousands of lives in Southeast Asia, particularly victims of persecution, armed conflict, disasters, and other exceptionally difficult circumstances.

The life of Muncy is riddled with sacrifice. For more than 40 years he has been living outside his own country doing humanitarian work in various environments.

Muncy applied for missionary service in the Philippines during the Martial Law out of his curiosity about the country, which was willing to take in refugees but was persecuting its own people at the time.

He would later cut off ties with the ministry program and founded the non-government organization Community Mental Health Services to answer the lack of psycho-social services in the country. Eight years later the NGO was renamed Community and Family Services International (CFSI).

“I didn’t want to take money from the government, so I had to cover the cost for my meals personally. Back then, I was famous for eating a lot of chippies and Coke,” recalls 64-year-old humanitarian worker.

Muncy and CFSI currently assist refugees from 48 different countries and territories.

What has kept Muncy inspired to keep on doing his selfless advocacies is his co-workers and the people he is helping. “The communities we [CFSI] deal with, whether in their darkest or brightest moments, are the same. There’s so much giving and engagement with one another. There’s so much laughter even in difficult times,” he intimates. “I draw from the people I work with and from the people I encounter. They are what keeps me going.”

Among the notable efforts of Muncy and CFSI in the Philippines is the implementation of the Marawi Recovery Project, aimed at providing livelihoods and other assistance to some 40,000 people who suffer from the Battle of Marawi in 2017.

He also initiated a program that has allowed over 300 individuals from the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Indonesia to get advanced university degrees in social work.

“One of our challenges today, particularly in this age of pandemic and isolation, is to give people a reason to keep on living. We need to help them see that they can have a better future.”

The laureates will be having an instructive dialogue to share their knowledge and experience on their respective fields via a lecture series organized by the Ramon Magsaysay Transformative Leadership Institute (RMTLI). The webinar will be streamed live on RMFA’s Facebook and Youtube.

On Sept. 29, Wednesday, from 2 to 4 p.m., Muhammad Amjad Saqib will conduct his talk titled “Faith-based giving: Ahkuwat’s journey in changing lives.” The sessions for Ka Dodoy, Steven Muncy, Watchdoc, and Firdausi Qadri, will be on Oct. 13, Nov. 10, 17, and 24, respectively. The final schedule of the four latter sessions will be announced on RMFA’s social media accounts. | |