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MANILA, Philippines – Education is a big theme in this year’s Ramon Magsaysay awards, with two individuals who have dedicated their lives to educating indigenous communities – a Filipino and an Indonesian – and a Pakistani organization that builds schools for girls among the 6 awardees.
The awards, named after former Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay and often described as Asia’s Nobel Prize, will also be given to two Chinese nationals – an influential journalist and a crusading environmental lawyer – and a museum director in Afghanistan.
From the Philippines, the young Randy Halasan, 31, is being recognized for teaching the children of the Matigsalug tribe in one of the remotest mountain villages in Mindanao.
Halasan will receive the award for Emergent Leadership for “his purposeful dedication in nurturing his Matigsalug students and their community to transform their lives through quality education and sustainable livelihoods, doing so in ways that respect their uniqueness and preserve their integrity as indigenous peoples in a modernizing Philippines.”
Indonesian Saur Marlina Manurung, 42, who is more commonly known as “Butet,” was cited for “her ennobling passion to protect and improve the lives of Indonesia’s forest people” through jungle schools put up by her organization.
An anthropologist, she set up a school, the Sokola Rimba, in 2003 with the aim of teaching remote tribal people in the jungles of Jambi in Sumatra. She has since adopted the system she developed for the Orang Rimba people for other tribal groups.
On her Twitter account @manurungbutet, Butet said she was speechless and hoped the award would benefit indigenous communities in Indonesia.
The Pakistani non-governmental group The Citizen’s Foundation, organized by Pakistani business leaders, was honored for putting up schools that gave equal opportunities to girls in a country where education for women is anathema to some religious extremists.
Also among the awardees is Hu Shuli, 61, founder and former editor of Caijing, a business magazine famed for its groundbreaking investigative reporting that has had a profound impact on China.
Its reports on illegal trading, “government cover-up of the true extent of the 2003 SARS epidemic”, and corporate fraud led to the ousting of high public officials, prosecution of business leaders, and stock market reforms, the foundation said.
“Hers is a journalism that works within the system but preserves the critical distance that is journalism’s strength,” the award citation said of Hu. She left Caijing in 2010 and founded Caixin Media.
Another winner was Chinese lawyer Wang Canfa, 55, founder of the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims, which has handled thousands of environmental complaints and beaten powerful industrialists in court.
Its efforts have also included training lawyers and judges, as well as drafting environmental laws and regulations, the foundation said.
“As long as we persist, the goal of establishing Chinese environmental rule of law will be achieved someday,” the award quoted Wang as saying.
Also honored was National Museum of Afghanistan director Omara Khan Masoudi, 66, for saving some of the museum’s most precious objects from the “bombings, looting, and willful destruction by the Taliban” insurgents of what they considered Afghanistan’s non-Muslim heritage.
“The Magsaysay awardees of 2014 are truly beacons of progress in Asia,” Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation President Carmencita Abella said in the statement announcing the awardees.
“All of them are creating bold solutions to deeply-rooted social problems in their respective societies, problems which are most damaging to the lives of those trapped in poverty, ignorance, and unjust systems.”
This year’s winners will be invited to Manila for an awards ceremony on August 31. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com