‘Rescuing Angkor Wat a call to return to peace’ – Magsaysay Awardee Yoshiaki Ishizawa

The 6 recipients of the prestigious 2017 Ramon Magsaysay Awards were officially recognized during their presentation ceremonies at the Cultural Center of the Philippines on Thursday, August 31.

Among the awardees is Japan's Yoshiaki Ishizawa, who devoted 50 years of his life to restoring the Angkor Wat to ensure it remains a living monument for Cambodians.

Here is the full text of his speech, as provided by the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation.

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Vice President of the Philippines Maria Leonor Robredo, trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, distinguished guests, members of the Magsaysay family, fellow awardees, ladies and gentlemen. 

It is with deep feelings of joy that I stand before you today to receive the world-renowned Ramon Magsaysay Award. I feel elated, humbled, and deeply moved by your kind decision to confer upon me such a magnificent honor. 

In all sincerity, I declare that it was not my efforts alone, but rather, the efforts of numerous friends and colleagues as well that have served to earn for me this singular distinction. Hence, on behalf of my staff at the Sophia University Angkor International Mission, I accept this award with profound humility and gratitude. 

The founding philosophy of Sophia University is “Men and Women for Others, with Others.” Spurred on by this motto, we have so far sought to diligently pursue our works of service for Cambodia, a nation whose people have undergone acute suffering and sorrow, owing to the civil war and political unrest that began in 1970. The situation in Cambodia was such that it could never be bypassed or ignored. During a period of 24 years, the Cambodians had lost virtually all they had, and every single day for them was marked by anguish and despair. 

We of the Sophia Mission have pursued two distinct goals. One is the extending of humanitarian assistance to Cambodia through relief services for refugees, while the other is the revitalization of Cambodian culture through the restoration of Angkor Wat. Our reason for insisting on rescuing Angkor Wat is because this would signify a call to the people to return to the peace that once characterized the Angkor period, as well as a call for them to rebuild their nation once more.

This call of ours echoed far and wide. We even moved a step ahead, because this appeal for the restoration of Angkor Wat was also a plea for reconciliation between ethnic groups, and the revival of the nation’s culture. In fact, these two appeals are linked to the establishment of peace. In our training of human resources, our stress was on the fact that “the preservation and restoration of Cambodian cultural heritage should be carried out by the Cambodians, for the Cambodians.”

A key factor in our development of human resources lies in the fact that in 1996, we purchased land in Cambodia, and later erected over there a training center, namely the Sophia Asia Center for Research and Human Development. This enabled us to move closer to the sites, and it also signified our motivation with regard to the issue. We also launched a program whereby conservators acquired academic degrees. Here, selected individuals entered the Graduate School of Area Studies of Sophia University in order to obtain their required degrees, and, to date, 7 have acquired their doctorates and 11 have acquired their master’s. All of them have now returned to Cambodia, where they serve as senior officials for the government. This program was initiated in 1996, and it still continues. 

These, in brief, are some of our modest accomplishments. I express my sincere appreciation to all of you for your unstinted generosity, and thank you from the depths of my heart. May God bless you all. – Rappler.com

Read the speeches of other 2017 Ramon Magsaysay Awards recipients: