A Catholic lay worker in Timor-Leste, a psychiatrist in India, a peace advocate in the Philippines, and a social worker in Vietnam are among this year's winners of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award.
Established in 1957, the Ramon Magsaysay Award is Asia's highest honor and is widely regarded as the region's equivalent to the Nobel Prize.
The award celebrates the memory of the third Philippine president after whom it is named, and is given every year to individuals or organizations in Asia who manifest "selfless service."
This year's recipients of the award are:
• Cambodia's Youk Chhang, a survivor of the Cambodian "killing fields" who devoted his life to documenting and memorializing the genocide to serve the aims of judicial redress, national reconciliation, and collective healing.
• Howard Dee of the Philippines who established Philippine Business for Social Progress and together with a Jesuit priest founded the Assisi Development Foundation. He has served as peace negotiator between the government and Moro and communist rebels.
• Maria de Lourdes Martins Cruz, also known as Mana Lou, founded the Instituto Seculare Maun Alin Iha Kristu, a lay institute of men and women dedicated to uplifting the poorest of the poor in Timor-Leste. She also established Bairo-Ata Clinic, a large, free clinic for the poor that averages 300 patients daily and is the nation's largest provider of tuberculosis treatment.
• India's Bharat Vatwani and his wife established the Shraddha Rehabilitation Foundation in 1988 to rescue mentally-ill people living on the streets and provide free shelter, food, and psychiatric treatment.
• Vo Thi Hoang Yen of Vietnam founded the Disability Research and Capacity Development, a non-profit organization based in Ho Chi Minh City whose guiding vision was to create "an equal and non-discriminatory society" for persons with disabilities.
• Sonam Wangchuk of India founded the Students' Education and Cultural Movement of Ladakh and started coaching Ladakhi student, 95 percent of whom used to fail government exams. In 1994, with Wangchuk in the lead, "Operation New Hope" was launched to expand and consolidate the partnership-driven educational reform program.
Carmencita Abella, president of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, said this year's winners have been key in advancing causes to improve lives and transform societies across Asia.
"They have shown moral courage and impassioned insistence on making the societies that they serve better, kinder, and more equitable for everyone, especially for the marginalized," she said
"The awardees offer us inspiring examples of vision, leadership, persistence and success," Abella said during the announcement of the winners on July 26 in Manila.
She described the work of the awardees as a "defiant declaration of hope" that shows the "positive constructive power of greatness of spirit."
The Ramong Magsaysay Awards will be conferred officially to the recipients on Aug. 31 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Manila.