The Ramon Magsaysay Award

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I came acrosss this opinion from Gulf News today and It's a good read.

Arabs can learn a lot from Asian awards
by:Dr Abdullah Al Madani

In the Arab world, the number of foundations that confer annual prizes for significant achievements has been on the rise since the late 1980s.

This, of course, is a good development. However, Arab prizes, in general, lack several necessary criteria.

They are seen as being given only to persons or groups whose political views are similar to those of the organisers. Committees and juries established for the purpose of handling and validating submissions and deciding on winners are often accused of religious, sectarian or nationalistic bias.

On one occasion, for example, 9 out of 10 winners of a cultural award came from a single Arab country, as if the rest of the Arab world had no geniuses in the field.

Awards, on the other hand, have not yet been given in a number of fields that are globally recognised as being important, such as science, economy, arts and culture.

Contributions of individuals and groups to the field of Islamic heritage are highly recognised by almost all Arab annual prizes committees.

But efforts aimed at alleviating human suffering and pain or promoting democracy and good governance seem to be always ignored.

In other words, those who have made significant contributions to such issues as democratisation, human rights, transparency or sustainable development have rarely been honoured.

While this is the status of Arab prizes, Asian awards seem to be ahead in all aspects. Take for example the Ramon Magsaysay Award (RMA), Asia's equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

The RMA celebrates the memory and leadership example of the third Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay (1907-1957), who is remembered for caring for all people, fighting injustice and promoting peace.

Since its inception in 1957, the RMA, which comprises a certificate, a medallion and a cash prize of $50,000 (Dh183,500), has been given to 249 laureates for exceptionally important contributions to six significant fields.

In many cases, winners hastened to donate their prize money to the poor or victims of violence and discrimination.

Such a move has not been widely realised in the case of Arab laureates, particularly the religious ones who often urge Muslims to help the poor but do not start with themselves.

It is enough to look at the names and contributions of this year's winners of the RMA to realise that Arab prizes are still far behind Asian ones.

The 2005 RMA for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts went to Bangladeshi journalist Matiur Rahman, 60, for his wielding the power of the press to fight against the practice of throwing acid on women's faces in his country.

About 300 young women are permanently disfigured every year in Bangladesh in attacks often motivated by spite after victims deny the attackers sex, marriage or suitable dowries.

Matiur has also used his authority as editor of Prothom Alo (First Light), a daily newspaper, to fight corruption, terrorism, extremism and human rights violations.

In the category of Public Service, the winner was Indonesian activist Teten Masduki, 42. He was cited for challenging Indonesians to expose corruption and claim their right to clean governance.

Indian physician V. Shanta, 78, was also cited for the public service award category. She was honoured for her untiring leadership of Chennai's Cancer Institute (WIA) as a centre of excellence and compassion for the study and treatment of cancer in India.

Shanta tirelessly strove to conduct groundbreaking research, train hundreds of cancer specialists and develop the WIA into a world-class research centre with a postgraduate college and a 428-bed hospital.

Laotian Sombath Somphone, 54, won the award for Community Leadership. He was recognised for his pioneering efforts to promote sustainable development in Laos by training and motivating its young people to become a generation of leaders.

Also among the awardees were Thai Senator Jon Ungphakorn, 58, and South Korean activist Yoon Hye-Ran, 37.

Ungphakorn received the RMA for Government Service in recognition of his impassioned insistence as a senator that Thailand must respect the rights and attend humanely to the needs of its least advantaged citizens.

Yoon, the winner of the 2005 RMA for Emergent Leadership, was honoured for her catalytic role in enabling Cheonan's civil society to exercise its social responsibilities dynamically and democratically.

There was no awardee this year in the sixth category, Peace and International Understanding.

Dr Abdullah Al Madani is a Bahrain-based Gulf researcher and writer on Asian affairs.

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