I am still in disbelief to be here in Manila to receive Asia’s most prestigious prize, the Ramon Magsaysay Award.
This Award is very special to me on both a professional and personal level. It is an acknowledgment of the work that my organization, Transcultural Psychosocial Organization-Cambodia, have done to alleviate the suffering of the Cambodian people from trauma and mental health problems over the past decades.
As Cambodia’s history has shaped my career path, please allow me to quickly share with you my own personal history.
I was born into a family of architects. Since childhood, I have dreamt of becoming one and to build a skyscraper in Phnom Penh. My dreams and plans were shattered when the Khmer Rouge regime reigned in Cambodia for three years, eight months and twenty days. During this regime, the intellectuals in the country were brutally murdered with only 40 doctors surviving. We felt traumatized and demoralized. We Cambodians were all living in deep trauma and with baksbat, literally meaning “broken courage.”
Given our dire situation, my mother insisted that I study medicine and become a doctor. There is a great need to help save people’s lives. Thus, I stopped pursuing my own dream and decided to be an obedient son.
As a young doctor in remote areas, I saw the great need for psychosocial help. I realized that this was perhaps my calling, to provide much-needed psychosocial care to my countrymen, especially those in the rural areas.
My organization, TPO-Cambodia, offers mental health services to hundreds of thousands of Cambodians. Through our tireless efforts, the stigma on mental health has been reduced; and now more people seek mental health care.
This Award comes with a prize money. I am donating all of this to TPO’s initiative, “Operation Unchain Project,” to continue to treat and unchain more patients who are in need of help. I will continue to implement this project until there are no more patients chained in the country.
I can stand before you today without hesitation to say that I have no regrets in following my mother’s advice. She has always taught me to do the right thing. After all, she named me “Sotheara” which means gentle, humble, kind, and compassionate. I hope that I have lived up to this name.
Words cannot express my sincerest gratitude to be given the Ramon Magsaysay Award.
But please allow me to thank the Foundation for this great honor.
I would like to thank my wonderful TPO family, who have been working with me in this advocacy. Forty-three of them are here today to celebrate with me.
I also wish to thank my Filipino professor, Dr. Cornelio Banaag, who taught me psychiatry in Phnom Penh 26 years ago.
And most importantly, I would like to thank my family, especially my beautiful, beloved wife Chantara, and my two children–Chan Charia and Chan Oussa–who are always by my side in my life. Without their support, I will not be able to do this work.
I wish everyone in Asia the five precepts of Buddha: Longevity, Beauty, Health, Strength, and Wisdom.