“I see a lot of possibilities for Nepal that is facing challenges on peace, poverty and competitiveness in the globalized world…My late father started his public service during the World War II. I was a four year old boy. Fast forward to 2006. I am an old man, about to finish my second and last term in the Senate. Many a times I wonder am I being as good as my father or not quite up to him?”- Ramon Magsaysay Jr. in Wagle Street Journal.
They all got eye sight: Poor people from around the country had gathered in the Monastery to be operated in the eyes by a team of doctors led by Dr. Sanduk Ruit, the winner of this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Awards for International Understanding. All pics by Wagle
By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Street Journal
Saturday blog. [This article appeared in today’s Kathmandu Post and its Nepali version in Kantipur. Tomorrow an encounter with Ramon Magsaysay Jr.]
This was a perfect time to be romantic. Prayer flags were dancing to the tunes of the musical bells, and the cool breeze was blowing- Antonio Meloto became almost emotional. Resting on the baranda of the Pullahari Monastery in Kapan on Friday afternoon, the 56-year-old man from the Philippines was thinking something else.
“I am a Catholic,” he said looking at this reporter. “And I am here in a Buddhist temple with Muslims from Pakistan and Indonesia. I am having connection with what is divine in me. I find so much peace in me.”
Meloto, who landed in Kathmandu on Thursday, however, is not here for a pilgrimage. The winner of 2006 Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership is here to see what his Magsaysay-winning Nepali fellow was doing that fetched him this year’s top Asian award.
Inside the monastery, Dr Sanduk Ruit, winner of this year’s Magsaysay for International Understanding, was busy in the operation theater doing cataract surgery. A team led by Dr Ruit has operated about three hundred patients from different parts of Nepal. Accompanying Meloto were five past Magsaysay winners and members of the Board of Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation. They are in Kathmandu to observe the activities of Tilganga Eye Center, of which Dr Ruit is the medical director, and to take part in the 2006 Magsaysay Awardees’ Conference (24-26 Nov.). With them are Ramon Magsaysay Jr., son of former Filipino president Ramon Magsaysay, after whom the prestigious award had been established in April 1957, and his wife. Magsaysay Jr.’s son from his first wife has also joined the entourage.
Dr. Ruit operating a patient’s eye.
“In these times of conflict and anger in the world,” Meloto continued, “We can release the greatness of the human spirit by giving out the best of ourselves to those who are in need.” Then the bespectacled man praised how Dr Ruit was doing the same, giving sight to the sightless, in such a wonderful manner.
“Meloto-ji, what’s the power of your spectacle?” I threw one of my standard questions to chasmawallas.
“I am nearsighted,” said the man. “But my left eye is almost blind. 80 percent blind. When I was 12, I fell from a tree. There was no blood from the eye so everyone was, instead, concerned about my broken leg. I come from a poor family so I didn’t get the medical attention.”
“May be you should talk to Dr Ruit,” I said naively.
“I think I should,” he replied, smiling. “I even talked to doctors in America. They all said the problem was too old to be cured.”
Though his eye hasn’t been cured for the last 44 years, Meloto has contributed in uplifting the lives of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos through his efforts, according to the Magsaysay citation, “to provide every Filipino the dignity of a decent home and neighborhood.” He said the award has “allowed me to expand my work and allowed the world to know what I am doing and inspire others.”
This is the exact feeling of other Magsaysay awardees. “People now believe what I am doing is the ‘right’ thing,” said Teten Masduki, who was awarded the prize in 2005 for his crusade against corruption in Indonesia. “I have received much support from the Indonesian society and from abroad.”
Winners: Past and present winnders of Magsaysay Awards which is often considered the Asian equivalent of the Noble Prize.
A Muslim inside a Buddhist Monastery: Magsaysay Award winner (1992) Shoaib Sultan Khan from Pakistan
Antonio Meloto (right) and Teten Masduki
But in some places winning Magsaysay by a private citizen has changed government policy toward the related field. “Before the prize, I was working with one hundred thousand households with the help of donor agencies,” said Shoaib Sultan Khan, a Pakistani who won the prize in 1992 for running a program that brought thousands of hectares of new land under cultivation. “After the prize, the government became interested in funding the project and now 1.5 million households are covered.” The program, he said, went international (including six villages in Syangja in 1995) as the UNDP started funding.
Winning any prize is an achievement, but with Magsaysay awards comes more than just the US$ 50,000. There is wide publicity aimed at promoting the cause for which the award is given to. “We don’t only present the award,” said Emily A. Abrera, chairperson of the award’s Board of Trustees, added “we also promote the awardees’ projects.”
Each year the foundation receives more than 200 secret nominations from its own undisclosed list of sources, she said, adding, “our researchers extensively investigate the nominations and the board decides on the final names after much debates.”
At least one winner, she said, has refused the award. “When we called him to tell the news,” Abrera said, “he thanked us and said no. He said that he didn’t want limelight and the award might invite negative impact for his work.”
But Dr Ruit didn’t reject and here she is to observe the winning project. “Very moving,” she said. “I was thoroughly impressed.”
The most impressed person was Washington Sycip,85, winner of the award in 1992 and a member of the Board of Trustees, who after hearing Dr Ruit in the welcome ceremony, asked Darmencita T. Abella, President of the Foundation, in loud voice: “When will he become the Prime Minister of Nepal?”
Say Magsaysay! These girls, two on the right, are staffs of the Magsaysay Awards Foundation and the girl on the right is the daughter of the president of the foundation. They were also working as photographers with requesting people on the frame to scream “Say Magsaysay!”