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  • A pediatrician by training, NAFSIAH MBOI-WALINONO became director of the province's community health services. She revitalized the Village Family Welfare Movement and Dharma Wanita, a women's cooperative movement that addressed the province's "child killers" -- neonatal tetanus, gastroenteritis and measles.
  • She also established a provincial board for coordination and advancement of non-governmental efforts in social development. The Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association came alive with new outreach.
  • The Board of Trustees recognizes their open-hearted invigoration of government and cooperating agencies, bringing practical rural progress and new self-motivation to nearly three million villagers in Indonesia's bleakest province.

Chronic hunger, high infant mortality, isolation and a sense of hopelessness was the lot of most inhabitants of the 110-odd islands of Indonesia's southeast Nusa Tenggara Timur province. Cursed by the nation's longest and most erratic dry season -- broken occasionally by heavy rainstorms -- and miserable rocky soil, the farmers (80 percent of the population) were dependent on slash and burn methods of cultivation and could seldom grow enough corn for subsistence. The coastal communities on the three larger islands (Sumba, Flores, Timur), trading sporadically with the modern economies on Java, Bali and Sulawesi, were handicapped by lack of port facilities and roads into the interior. 

Thus, excluded from Indonesia's growing prosperity, the islanders felt themselves forgotten by the national leaders in Jakarta. Native young people seeking a beuer future left the province. Outside investors had little interest in using the idle wild grassland for cattle grazing, or in exploiting the abundant fishing grounds in the adjoining waters because processing and shipping infrastructure did not exist. 

It was difficult for ALOYSIUS BENEDICTUS MBOI and NAFSIAH MBOI-WALINONO -- both medical practitioners -- to leave the comforts and professional and financial attractions of Jakarta for the backward province to which he was appointed governor in 1978, even though he had been born to a rajah family of the province, in Ruteng, Flores, in 1935, and she to a noble house of Sengkang in neighboring South Sulawesi, in 1940. They met in her first and his fourth year in medical college where he was president of the Student Council, and they were married when she graduated. 

Entering the Army Medical Corps, Dr. BEN MBOI broadened his professional skills with special training in public health. Advanced study took him to Belgium, Norway, West Germany and Holland before he promoted to colonel and head of the army's Preventive Medicine Institute. Dr. NAFSIAH MBOI took graduate courses in pediatrics in Belgium and Holland. She became an ardent practitioner of socially conscious medicine and led in mobilizing women to create effective health organizations. 

Since moving to the provincial capital of Kupang, where BEN is now serving his second five-year term as governor, this couple has initiated dramatic change in prospects for the province. Food -- and water for growing crops -- was the new governor's first priority. Where government agencies responsible for teaching and assisting farmers had often been moribund, he enthused their staffs with a sense of direction and purpose that has helped farmers make the province self-sufficient in grain for the past three years. Repeated trips to remote villages convinced him that better access was essential and his skillful persuasion in Jakarta resulted in funding to build over 1,000 kilometers of blacktop roads and more gravel feeder roads. Most vital is his instilling educators, technicians and officials with a contagious perception of what they can do with will and work. 

So-called  "child killers" became an urgent concern of NAFSIAH, who became director of the province's community health services. Neonatal tetanus, gastroenteritis and measles were the major causes of the mortality of infants under the age of one year, reportedly exceeding 124 deaths per 1,000. NAFSIAH vitalized the Village Family Welfare Movement and Dharma Wanita, the organization of wives of civil servants; a growing women's cooperative movement emerged as a result of her leadership. She also established a provincial board for coordination and advancement of nongovernmental efforts in the field of social development, bringing to these organizations recognition, self-respect, information and funds. The Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association came alive with new outreach. 

The gregarious, jolly governor and his enterprising wife agree that the work has only begun. When they first arrived in Kupang he challenged his staff: "If not us, who? If not now, when?" The couple's infectious energy and optimism inspired the answers: "us" and "now." 

In electing Governor ALOYSIUS BENEDICTUS MBOI and Dr. NAFSIAH MBOI-WALINONO to receive the 1986 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes their open-hearted invigoration of government and cooperating agencies, bringing practical rural progress and new self-motivation to nearly three million villagers in Indonesia's bleakest province.

Mr. Chief Justice, Mrs. Magsaysay, Fellow Awardees, Excellencies, Trustees, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is an honor to be here with you this evening and to be part of these ceremonies simultaneously honoring the memory of the late Ramon Magsaysay, a great champion of democracy and the dignity of mankind, and the current acts of people who still care. 

Let me start by invoking the spirit of the man whose memory we keep alive here, this evening. Were he with us I feel certain he would remind us that we now honor, the awaking of a people, the rebirth of hope, the evolution of a growing sense of efficacy among ordinary people, particularly among women, and the emergence of new organizations to serve community needs. 

Then it would be clear that no individual can be singled out as "the one who did it." Certainly, in NTT he would be right. What has been accomplished and what is honored here is the result of many people's efforts -- people sharing in the adventure of development. 

In responding to the citation I would like to share something of our journey since arriving in the province of Nusa Tenggara Timur in July 1978, a journey which started, as far as I was concerned, very much on the dark side of the mountain. 

Honor and duty notwithstanding, as my husband and I left Jakarta for NH I felt that we were giving up rather too much and the task ahead was rather too daunting. I had no sense at the time of how much I would learn -- personally and professionally, how rewarding and fulfilling the job would be. Certainly, never did it occur to us that we would receive such an overwhelming honor as the Ramon Magsaysay Award, nor that there would be people who felt such would be justified. 

First impressions upon arrival in NTT did nothing to relieve me. It was July, mid-point in our dry season when the environment becomes more desolate with each passing day. 

To make matters worse, one heard repeatedly that the people were almost as barren, hopeless, and as unpromising as the environment. 

Then one day I suddenly saw beyond the bareness. I notice the beautiful bougainvillea rising from the rocks, thriving and creating splashes of color and beauty, giving life to the scene. It seemed to send a clear message if I would but understand that no matter how bleak the situation, one can find sustenance and bring forth beauty. No matter how difficult the situation, one must persist in giving of oneself, neither counting the cost nor expecting return. This was the task : to keep hope alive. 

That having become clear, the doctor in me began to take over -- observing, analyzing, and hypothesizing. 

By assignment and out of a desire to help my husband in his work, my particular responsibility was concerned with the situation of women. But where and how to begin was not clear. 

So we set out to get the information needed to make those decisions. We traveled extensively, seeking opportunity for discussion with village people about whom and from whom I had the most to learn. I listened -- with my eyes, with my ears, with my heart. We asked endless questions and prayed for insight. 

Gradually, it became clear that to be effective we must focus our efforts on six interrelated matters: 1) Expanding activity of benefit to women at the village level; 2) Enticing women -- particularly those with leadership potential -- to rise to the challenge of our time and the work to be done in NTT; 3) Improving cooperation between men and women in all aspects of development work; 4) Institution building within the women's movement and the non-governmental social development field; 5) Building bridges for dialogue, promoting mutual respect and understanding of the complementarity between government and community efforts in NTT; 6) Identification and attracting new resources -- human and financial -- to help meet these special needs. 

The activities and institutions mentioned in the citation are children of that conviction. 

In time, men and women in many parts of the province came to share our vision, to improve it, to refine it and in the process we have all become winners. To the extent that we have struggled together and made some progress, to that extent has the humanity in all of us been increased. 

Therefore I take this opportunity to express my profound thanks to the board of Trustees of the Magsaysay Foundation not for an honor done me personally, but for the honor paid through me to the efforts of women and men throughout NTT and beyond, people who have worked, and continue to work, to improve our community. 

Finally, in closing, I thank the Foundation for the honor paid the working partnership of a husband and wife whose virtue, if there be such, is caring and trying; who, if it is given to them, would be as bougainvillea in a parched land. Thank you.

Learn more about the awardee:

Mboi, Nafsiah Walinono

Indonesia's champion couple of public service who initiated dramatic changes in the socio-economic prospects of the poor province of Nusa Tenggara Timur.