Fisherman From Zambo Sibugay Among Magsaysay Awardees
This year’s Ramon Magsaysay awardees include Roberto Ballon of the Philippines, Firdausi Qadri of Bangladesh, Muhammad Amjad Saqib of Pakistan, Steven Muncy of Southeast Asia, and independent media group Watchdoc of Indonesia.
A Filipino fisherman from Zamboanga Sibugay is among the five recipients of this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Awards, considered Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize.
In a virtual announcement on Tuesday, Aug. 31, the Board of Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) named four individuals and, for the first time, an organization to receive Asia’s premier prize.
The awardees include Roberto Ballon of the Philippines, Firdausi Qadri of Bangladesh, Muhammad Amjad Saqib of Pakistan, Steven Muncy of Southeast Asia, and independent media group Watchdoc of Indonesia.
Roberto Ballon, fondly called Ka Dodoy, is a 53-year-old fisherman who helped form the Gamay ng Mangingisda sa Concepcion (KGMC) or Association of Small Fishermen of Concepcion that focuses on mangrove reforestation and aims to preserve the coastal environment in his village of Kabasalan in Mindanao.
He was recognized for “his inspiring determination in leading his fellow fisherfolk to revive a dying fishing industry by creating a sustainable marine environment for this generation and generations to come, and his shining example of how everyday acts of heroism can truly be extraordinary and transformative.”
It was in 1986 when Ballon and 30 other fishermen in their village of Concepcion in Kabasalan, Zamboanga Sibugay founded the KGMC.
With little help and meager returns—as benefits of reforestation are not felt quickly, their group members gradually reduced to just three at a certain time, but Ballon, the chairman of the association, persisted.
Through their perseverance, they had gotten government support in early 2000, granting them tenurial rights to the reforested land under a government forestry co-management program.
From the 50 hectares they replanted by 1994, it had expanded to 500 hectares of mangrove forests in 2015. “What was once a desert of abandoned fishponds is now an expanse of healthy mangrove forests rich with marine and terrestrial life.”
“Fish catch has improved dramatically from 1.5 (kilograms) per fishing trip of eight hours to as much as (seven) kg in (three) to (five) hours of fishing,” Ballon’s citation read.
The quality of life among fisherfolks improved as they were able to buy a boat engine or simple household appliances and send their children to school. Their association’s membership grew to 320 households and led to other projects.
“His exceptional dedication to serving others and self-sacrificing leadership that puts the group’s interest before his own have transformed his community,” it said.
The KGMC now has a membership of 320 households, whose members are deputized to conduct sea patrol volunteer programs to protect municipal waters from illegal fishing and man-grove planting.
Their initiatives have been replicated in other towns aside from Kabasalan, which is now considered the seafood capital of the province and an ecotourism destination.
Firdausi Qadri, Bangladesh
Because of her passion and lifelong devotion to the scientific profession, Qadri, 70, was chosen for her contributions to vaccine development, advanced biotechnological therapeutics, and critical research that had been saving millions of lives, according to the foundation.
Early on, Qadri earned a degree in Biochemistry, culminating in a doctorate from Liverpool University in the United Kingdom. She focused on communicable diseases, immunology, vaccine development, and clinical trials.
She has worked in Bangladesh as a scientist for more than 40 years but has not thought of retiring.
Qadri cited the fight against cholera and typhoid, major diseases in Bangladesh and Asian and African countries as the most challenging engagements in her career.
Amid the current COVID-19 pandemic, Qadri was involved in vaccine trials and coronavirus disease testing and research in Bangladesh.
“Beyond current health interventions, Dr. Qadri dreams of building in Bangladesh the human and technical infrastructure for research in health science,” her citation read.
The Bangladeshi teacher also loves to train and mentor young scientists and inspire them by putting them in contact with well-known scientists in other countries.
As for her greater goal, she is focused on upgrading laboratories so that local scientists in her country will not have to go abroad for lack of facilities available.
“Building local capability is demonstrated in her work on typhoid and cholera vaccines (already approved in Bangladesh and other countries), her current work on E. coli diarrhea vaccine, and interest in Covid-19 vaccine development,” it noted.
Of her research niche, Qadri said: “I want it to be bigger in the coming years and self-supporting in the future, less dependent on international funding. It should carry out research at the highest level and have a good number of scientists who will carry out this work. I am looking at that in the future.”
Muhammad Amjad Saqib, Pakistan
The RMAF cited Saqib’s intelligence and compassion that enabled him to create the largest microfinance institution in Pakistan.
His organization is breaking fresh ground in the fight against poverty in the country, especially in the microfinance movement that is a lifeline for the poor, distributing 4.8 million interest-free loans amounting to $900 million.
He was recognized by the RMA board for “his intelligence and compassion that enabled him to create the largest microfinance institution in Pakistan; his inspiring belief that human goodness and solidarity will find ways to eradicate poverty and his determination to stay with a mission that has already helped millions of Pakistani families.”
The 64-year-old Pakistani is highly educated and has worked as a consultant on social development for Pakistan’s government and international development organizations.
With the help of his friends—all successful professionals and businessmen— Saqib founded in 2003 a first-of-its-kind interest-free microfinance program, Akhuwat, which aims to reduce poverty in his country. Its first branch opened in Lahore.
“Akhuwat (brotherhood or sisterhood) is an approach to poverty alleviation that Saqib introduced based on the values of the Islamic tradition of Mawakhat that has for its core the Prophet Mohammed’s teaching: that if one has a loaf of bread, half of it rightly belongs to a person who has none,” his citation read.
The program uses places of worship for loan disbursements, saving on costs, and instilling the sense of trust, responsibility and community that a mosque, church, or temple creates.
It also promotes volunteerism among staff and clients; aims at transforming borrowers into donors; and fosters diversity and inclusion, serving all—irrespective of religion, caste, color, and gender.
Today, Akhuwat is the largest microfinance institution in Pakistan, offering a package of loans for the poor. The microfinance institution also provides social support in the education sector and runs a health services initiative that helps hundreds of thousands of patients.
During the pandemic, Akhuwat responded with emergency loans and grants, food relief, and other assistance in over a hundred cities in Pakistan.
Addressing the concern on the sustainability of the loan program, he said: “Akhuwat is a philosophy. It is now a mission of millions. Until a poverty-free society has been created, we won’t let go. As long as there is an element of good and empathy in society, Akhuwat will continue.”
Steven Muncy, Southeast Asia
Muncy’s “unshakable belief in the goodness of man that inspires in others the desire to serve” made him exceptional among the candidates for the award, the RMAF said.
“His life-long dedication to humanitarian work, refugee assistance, and peace building; and his unstinting pursuit of dignity, peace, and harmony for people in exceptionally difficult circumstances in Asia,” the foundation noted.
The 64-year-old American was raised in a humble family grounded in the principles of Christian love for others. In 1980, he joined in a Baptist journeyman social ministry program that brought him as a volunteer to the Philippine Refugee Processing Center in Morong, Bataan, a transit center for Indochinese refugees of the just-ended Vietnam War.
Seeing the dire lack of psychosocial services in the camp, Muncy formed Community Mental Health Services, a non-governmental organization, to address this need with support from the Norwegian government and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The non-government organization was also tasked by UNHCR to do similar work in the Vietnamese refugee camps in Hong Kong in 1989-1993. It was renamed Community and Family Services International (CFSI) in 1989.
It defined itself as a humanitarian organization committed to “the lives, wellbeing, and dignity of people uprooted by persecution, armed conflict, disasters, and other exceptionally difficult circumstances.”
The humanitarian organization has a current staff of nearly 400 in three countries.
The Philippines-based organization would soon serve for varying lengths of time in 10 countries in Asia. Today, it is responding to the humanitarian disaster of the Battle of Marawi in 2017.
Asked about his career, he said: “I am so grateful for the opportunities that have allowed me to help a little; grateful for the people who have been involved in this organization; grateful for the blessings I have received from the community.”
The foundation said it recognized Watchdoc Media Mandiri’s energetic use of investigative journalism, documentary filmmaking, and digital technology to transform Indonesia’s media landscape.
Creating public awareness of such issues as human rights, social justice, and the environment is the advocacy of Watchdoc’s (from “watchdog” and “documentary”). Currently, the group has 15 members.
It draws its material and themes from issues of public concern that have not been treated adequately in mainstream media or presented from a people’s perspective.
Dandhy Laksono and Andhy Panca Kurniawan, both with journalism backgrounds and a passion for social causes, incorporated the private audiovisual production company in 2011. The media organization sees itself as a movement and not just a content creator.
“Disenchanted with mainstream broadcast TV – the concentration of media ownership, the premium on ratings, advertising, and revenues, the merchandising of entertainment and news – Laksono and Kurniawan yearned for an independent, people-based, and socially responsible media,” the group’s citation read.
The group cultivates logistical and funding support through collaborations and cross-subsidies with similarly-minded groups and institutions.
Through its two YouTube channels and other platforms, the media group has produced and distributed over 150 film titles in less than a decade of existence. Eight of its documentaries have each attracted more than one million views.
They have refused bribes or partnerships with known violators of human rights and environmental laws, sticking to basics, doing strongly-researched, fact-based, quality work.
As a young organization, Laksono realized that their goal is still very far away. Although the macro-policy has not changed, Laksono noted that gradually it will be strong if these small things become a movement.
Watchdoc Media Mandiri was named the 2021 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Emergent Leadership, the first organization to be named as a recipient by the board.
The RMAF said the Magsaysay Awardees of 2021 are one in their commitment to build solutions to vital and complex issues in their societies.
“Theirs is a moral courage that is unfazed by repressive systems, or social divisions, or institutional resistance, or deep cultural prejudice,” it noted. “Embracing the challenges of their respective advocacies, these leaders take bold, creative and empowering actions that engage others to do likewise. Perhaps the most powerful impact of their leadership can be seen in the heightened moral courage through the many lives they have touched and inspired.”
The prestigious award, established in 1958, is given annually to individuals or organizations in Asia who manifest the same selfless service and transformative influence that ruled the life of the late Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay.
It has been given in six categories: Government Service; Public Service; Community Leadership; Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts; Peace and International Understanding; and Emergent Leadership.
The 63rd Ramon Magsaysay laureates will each get a certificate, a medallion bearing the likeness of the late president, and a cash prize.
A formal presentation ceremony will be held on Nov. 28 at the Ramon Magsaysay Center in Manila.