Two Indians are among this year's Ramon Magsaysay award winners, regarded as an Asian version of the Nobel Prize. Bharat Vatwani was awarded for leading the rescue of thousands of mentally ill street paupers to treat and reunite them with their families. Sonam Wangchuk, the real-life Phunsukh Wangdu of Bollywood flick 3 Idiots, is selected for harnessing nature, culture and education for community progress.
The winners list also includes a Cambodian genocide survivor who helped document the Khmer Rouge atrocities.
Who is Sonam Wangchuk?
Sonam Wangchuk, Ladakhi by birth, B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering from National Institute of Technology, Srinagar.
He was a 19-year-old engineering student at the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar, Kashmir, when he went into tutoring to finance his schooling and help woefully unprepared students pass the national college matriculation exams.
In 1988, after earning his engineering degree, Wangchuk founded Students' Education and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) and started coaching the Ladakhi student, 95% of whom used to fail the government exams.
In 1994, with Wangchuk in the lead, "Operation New Hope" (ONH) was launched to expand and consolidate the partnership-driven educational reform program. Taking a life of its own, to date ONH has trained 700 teachers, 1000 VEC leaders, and dramatically increased the success rate of students in matriculation exams from just 5% in 1996 to 75% by 2015.
In 2016, he won the prestigious Rolex Award for Enterprise.
The Ramon Magsaysay Award board of trustees recognizes "his uniquely systematic, collaborative and community-driven reform of learning systems in remote northern India, thus improving the life opportunities of Ladakhi youth, and his constructive engagement of all sectors in local society to harness science and culture creatively for economic progress, thus setting an example for minority peoples in the world."
Who is Bharat Vatwani?
Psychiatrists Dr Bharat Vatwani established Non-profit organisation - Shraddha Rehabilitation Foundation in 1989. So far more than 2000 destitute have been reunited since the inception of the organisation. This unique institution was perhaps the only one of its kind in India run by practising psychiatrists that focused on the roadside mentally ill destitute.
In 2006, they moved to a bigger 120-patient facility in Karjat outside Mumbai, which had five buildings on a 6.5-acre land. By then, they had strengthened their three-phase therapeutic program, consisting of the rescue and treatment of mentally-ill street persons, reuniting patients with their families, and promoting awareness of mental health in communities.
The Ramon Magsaysay Award board of trustees recognizes Vatwani's tremendous courage and healing compassion in embracing India's mentally-afflicted destitute, and his steadfast and magnanimous dedication to the work of restoring and affirming the human dignity of even the most ostracized in our midst.