Filipina doctor protecting abused children among winners of Asia’s ‘Nobel Prize’

Her non-governmental organisation has helped more than 149,000 abused children and women across 61 provinces and 10 cities.

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda

The Straits Times


Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation cited Dr Bernadette Madrid for her work with the Child Protection Network Foundation. PHOTO: RAMON MAGSAYSAY AWARD FOUNDATION

September 1, 2022

MANILA – Dr Bernadette Madrid, a children’s rights crusader from the Philippines, was named one of the four laureates of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Awards, considered to be Asia’s Nobel Prize.

In a virtual ceremony on Wednesday (Aug 31), the Manila-based Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation cited Dr Madrid, 64, for her work with the Child Protection Network Foundation.

The non-governmental organisation has helped more than 149,000 abused children and women across 61 provinces and 10 cities, providing them with medical, legal and psychosocial care since 2002.

The paediatrician also heads the Child Protection Unit of the state-run Philippine General Hospital, the first facility in the country to provide mental health services to abused children and women. To date, the unit has helped 27,600 children.

The Ramon Magsaysay award is named after the seventh Filipino president, a former automobile mechanic who was venerated for his servant leadership that earned him the moniker Champion of the Masses.

Past winners include Singapore’s former deputy prime minister Goh Keng Swee and Malaysia’s former chief justice Suffian Hashim.

The other 2022 Magsaysay Awardees included Dr Sotheara Chhim, a psychiatrist who survived the Khmer Rouge regime that left around two million Cambodians dead due to overwork, starvation and mass executions in the late 1970s.

Dr Chhim, 54, now heads the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization (TPO), which leads efforts to treat Khmer Rogue survivors left traumatised by the genocide.

He helped develop a way to diagnose “baksbat” or “broken courage”, a post-traumatic syndrome exhibited by Cambodians that includes symptoms of fear, passivity and avoidance.

TPO promotes more clinical awareness of this syndrome so that Cambodian sufferers can be better assessed for trauma and treated.

Japanese ophthalmologist Tadashi Hattori, 58, received the award for providing free eye surgeries in rural parts of Vietnam. He first visited Hanoi in 2002 and found that cataract blindness was prevalent in the country, where eye specialists and facilities were limited.

Dr Hattori donated medical equipment to Hanoi, and has done numerous medical missions to Vietnam to give free eye treatments, train local doctors and donate to hospitals.

The last Magsaysay Awardee was French environmental activist and film-maker Gary Bencheghib, who was recognised for helping clean up Indonesia’s polluted waters.

His family moved to Bali when he was just nine years old, and he quickly discovered that the supposed picture-perfect tourist destination was bogged down by plastic waste. This started his advocacy to build kayaks made out of discarded plastic bottles to raise awareness about marine plastic pollution.

In 2017, Mr Bencheghib’s team made a documentary series as they kayaked around the Citarum River, said to be one of the most polluted rivers in the world.

This got the attention of Indonesian President Joko Widodo, prompting the government to launch a seven-year rehabilitation program for the Citarum River.

All four Magsaysay laureates will be flown to Manila for the in-person awarding ceremony on Nov 30. The award comes with a cash prize, which was US$50,000 (S$69,900) in past years.

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