This is a great moment for me to be bestowed this award named after the great president of the Philippines, Ramon Magsaysay. President Magsaysay won the hearts of the Filipino people because “he cared for all people as individuals and believed in their dignity and importance.” His great ideals inspired my own thinking during my student days at the University of the Philippines at Los Ba?os during the 1960s. With my wife, I strove to belong to the circle of those who place the interests of the people above all things in life.
As a youth from a poor family, I had to work to supplement my parents’ meager income, to help take care of my two brothers and three sisters, and to support myself in school. As a newspaper boy, I hopped from one passenger bus to another early every morning. At night, I tutored children who were better off than I was. I learned to treasure the value of labor and I determined to work on the side of the less privileged people in my country. In particular, I was determined to help educate millions of Vietnamese in the vital field of agriculture, and to imbue them not only with technical competence but also with ideals that promote national development.
I presented my Doctor of Agriculture dissertation at Kyushu University in 1975, just before the end of the Vietnam War. I then found myself rushing home even as thousands of Vietnamese were fleeing in the other direction.
The first two months under the new government were full of joy and anxiety: joy because the Vietnamese nation was finally unified, but anxiety because of uncertainty about whether people who worked under the old government would be welcome to participate in the postwar reconstruction. But the new university leaders started assigning me responsibilities and I soon found out that the ideas of my life converged with the goal of the new government: “For the happiness of the people.” This ideal has given me and my wife magical strength to overcome most of the difficulties and inconveniences in our life.
Peace in the Mekong Delta allowed agricultural scientists to infiltrate areas that had been untouchable during the war. We walked through thousands of hectares of burnt rice fields, withered forests, and deserted meadows. We traveled by sampan, bicycle, and motorcycle; sometimes we had to cling to the door of the last passenger bus. Yet we did not feel exhausted. On the contrary, we felt happy because each day we grew professionally and accumulated practical experiences that were not available in our textbooks. From these encounters with reality, I could see why the lack of appropriate science and technology was the main cause of the backwardness of agricultural development of the Mekong Delta.
I therefore concentrated on two things: first, training agricultural graduates and agricultural extension agents in research in food production, particularly pest-resistant rice varieties and integrated farming techniques on difficult soils; and second, transferring appropriate technologies to government administrators who administered the country’s food production plans.
At the university, I integrated classroom instruction with scientific research and extension work. Outside the university, I concentrated on multifaceted agricultural extension projects: from weekly TV programs to informal lectures during provincial or district cadres’ meetings; from discussions with top political leaders to talks with farmers. Eventually, I was able to convince the government to adopt agricultural policies that stimulate farmers to use new technologies for improving household incomes. Today I feel happy seeing the successes of our students who have become young cadres working in the agricultural offices of their respective localities, and I am even happier seeing the smiles of our collaborating farmers.
Obviously, these successes do not belong to myself alone but to a larger body of people. Being elected the 1993 Ramon Magsaysay awardee for government service, I recognize that this great honor must be accredited first to the doi moi (renovation) policy of the Vietnamese government leaders who have approved and supported my ideas, and to my colleagues and sympathizers who have been collaborating with me in putting my ideas into reality. Many high officials in the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Education and Training, the Ministry of Agriculture, the provincial and district governments, and the University of Cantho have been promoting my work and reiterating my faith in the bright future of Vietnam. My collaborators include colleagues at the University of Cantho; undergraduate and postgraduate students now working in various agricultural organizations in the country; scientists in various provinces of Vietnam; many foreign experts and leaders of several international organizations; many newspaper, radio, and TV reporters; and, of course, the farmers of Vietnam themselves.
Finally, I wish to dedicate this honor to my parents, to my wife and three children, and to my brothers and sisters who have sacrificed long days, weeks, and months without their son, husband, father, and brother so that I could devote my time to serve other people. My wife, particularly, has been the most steadfast home base, always managing things to make sure that any plan I am involved in can be accomplished.
The road ahead is still far and full of humps and potholes. But the path we have chartered, I believe, will create a new environment for the Vietnamese people to move faster toward prosperity. I pledge to try my best to continue the work I have chosen for so that I can be forever proud of this prestigious award, and so that I can live up to the expectations of the people I mentioned above and of the Ramon Magsaysay Ward Foundation, to whom I am very grateful. I beg your continuing patience and valuable support to help me fulfill my ideal.