Afghan, Myanmar women win Magsaysay awards for work amid conflict

MANILA Wed Jul 24, 2013 3:33pm IST

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MANILA (Reuters) - Afghanistan's first woman governor and a Myanmar civil society organiser, who both helped families displaced by conflict in their home nations, are among five winners of Asia's equivalent of the Nobel Prize this year.

The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation on Wednesday singled out Afghanistan's Habiba Sarabi, a 57-year-old doctor, for her "bold exercise of leadership to build up a functioning provincial government against great odds."

Sarabi, currently the only Afghan woman in such a role, also devoted her energy to helping Afghans in refugee camps, providing medical care and supervising literacy courses secretly in a Taliban-ruled state in the late 1990s.

"I'm not a warlord. I'm just a modern woman," said Sarabi, the governor of Bamyan province since 2005, who has pushed for education and empowerment of women in a society scarred by widespread discrimination against women and minorities.

The Foundation also recognised Lahpai Seng Raw from Myanmar, for her "quietly inspiring and inclusive leadership in the midst of deep ethnic divides and prolonged armed conflicts."

The 64-year-old widow, founder of the largest civil society group in the military-ruled country, did relief work among displaced people besides setting up schools and clinics. She was once detained on suspicion of being in contact with a brother who is with rebel forces in Myanmar.

In addition, the Manila-based foundation honoured Ernesto Domingo, a 76-year-old Filipino doctor who saved millions from life-threatening illness by vaccinating babies against hepatitis B and almost eliminating the chance of their getting infected.

Other winners include Indonesia's independent anti-corruption government body, the Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK), which has a 100-percent rate of conviction of corrupt officials and has recovered $80 million in stolen assets.

Nepal's Shakti Samuha, a group that combats human trafficking and helped rebuild the lives of thousands of trafficked and abused women, was another winner.

The winners will receive prizes of $50,000 each at a ceremony set for August 31 in Manila.

"The foundation wishes to raise awareness about the Magsaysay Award and specifically, about this year's five awardees, who are collectively advancing causes to improve lives and transform societies across Asia," foundation president Carmencita Abella said in a statement.

The awards, named for a popular president of the Philippines who was killed in a plane crash, were established in 1957 by the trustees of the New York-based Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

More than 300 people and groups, including the U.S. Peace Corps and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, have been recognised since 1958.

(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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