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INSPIRING VOICES: Changing Asia For The Better

Jul 21, 2024
10 min read

> *“If you do something, it has to be from your heart and that you are really wanting to help people.”*

> *“Young people should recognize environmental challenges and join the efforts to address them.”*

>*“Live simply so that we can simply live.”*

> *“We are indeed all members of the same family – humanity.“* 

Four visionaries were invited by the Asian Forum on Enterprise in Society, a global virtual conference on the forces shaping Asia’s future, to talk about the impact of their work in transforming the region.

On hand were **Dr. Steven Muncy**, humanitarian and peace builder working across borders, and 2021 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee; **Dr. Krisana Kraisintu**, Thai pharmaceutical scientist and champion for medical access for the poor; Awardee in 2009; **Ma Jun**, foremost environmental activist in China and 2009 Awardee; and **Sonam Wangchuk**, advocate for education reform and environmental protection in Ladakh, India and Awardee in 2018. The session was moderated by **Emily Abrera**, Trustee of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation.

***Collaborative effort***

Acclaimed environmentalist Ma Jun set the tone when he said, “Asia is a land of richness and hope, but it is beset by a multitude of environmental challenges. “More extreme weather, natural disasters, failing water supply, and loss of biodiversity, most of it due to climate change. Around 20 billion tons of carbon is emitted in Asia alone.” 

To address the issues, he advocates for “environmental transparency, public empowerment, green supply chain technology and green finance,” among other measures. Ma Jun calls for Asian countries to “collaborate and work together… from being carbon neutral to having corporations harness digital solutions to contain the problem.” Realizing the power of the youth, he says “young people should unite and tackle the problems together.”

***Changing mindsets***

From the foot of the Himalayas in Northern India, Sonam Wangchuk avers that all environmental efforts and innovations will go to waste if people will continue like it’s “business as usual, with their high-tech lives and polluting lifestyles.”

He is doing his share to mitigate the problem – building ice stuppas in winter to save water for the summer months, and mobilizing young people to do large scale planting of native species of plants and trees for a healthier environment. 

“We want to start a global movement, starting from the mountains of Ladakh – to appeal to the people of the world to live simply, so that we in the mountains can simply live.”

***Everyone can be productive***

“By strengthening the health systems, we bring about empowerment and the dignity of life.” This is the belief that spurred Thai “doctor of the people” Krisana Kraisintu to devote her life to working with people in communities, obsessed with “developing their potential so they can fend for themselves.”

To achieve this, Krisana works in the countryside to promote healthy lifestyles and livelihood projects. She teaches villagers to farm organic, medicinal vegetables and helps them sell the produce for a profit. 

Her desire to upscale the productivity of the people motivated her to develop specially designed mini “factories” to manufacture herbal medicine. She invented a mobile processing unit that goes directly to the communities. With this facility, they save the cost of transportation and other expenses. She also invented a modern quality control unit, a mini laboratory that increases the value, and selling price, of their products. 

Krisana has since extended her advocacy to neglected sectors in Thai society. She campaigns for narcotic addicts to be sent to psychiatric hospitals, and trains them to grow medicinal plants which they can sell. She runs a similar program for prisoners who are able to start their own business once released from prison. Her organic vegetable farming has taken her as far as the Thai-Myanmar border, training displaced women and children, and saving many of them from human trafficking.

***The power of humanity***

Steven Muncy started by saying “At the end of 2020, there were more than 82 million forced displaced persons worldwide; that’s one out of every 95 persons. More importantly, 42% are children, our future. The pandemic has not slowed the pace of forced displacement of children, women, and men.” 

He believes that survivors of forced displacement have rights to protection, and also have the right to humanitarian assistance. “The objective is very clear: save lives, alleviate suffering, restore or maintain human dignity, and foster recovery.”

The need is for durable or lasting solutions: voluntary return home, local integration, or rarely, resettlement to a third country. There are, however, some situations where the solutions don’t come quickly. Sometimes, for very long periods of time, forcibly displaced persons stay at refugee camps, IDP centers, transitory sites, and evacuation centers.

“So what can we do, particularly the youth, to bring about a healthier Asia?  We have some ideas. We can amplify their stories through protection advocacy campaigns.  We can make sure that they are fully vaccinated and have access to health, mental health, and psychosocial services. We can use help them reach those they left behind, obtain birth certificates to ensure they are protected and not becoming stateless, help them complete academic programs, and also help them to access job opportunities.”  

“We must hold states accountable, but we can and should help them formulate new approaches, policies, and laws. We can help bring an end to discrimination, exclusion, violence, and conflict by speaking frankly about these issues and working on them together. We can promote, as well as consistently practice, peace and understanding, respect for human rights, and equitable distribution of resources.”

”I believe that by investing our heart and our soul, over time we will demonstrate that we are indeed all members of the same family – humanity.”

***What keeps you going?***

Krisana: “I have been working like this all my life, It’s a basic human right, for people to get access to medicine. But now, it’s more than that. I collaborate with many groups of people, especially the rich… ask them to collaborate with my projects.”

Ma Jun: “I use data every day to understand this level of impact of pollution earlier than others. The data motivates the citizens to join in, to hold the companies and local government accountable. That gives me hope and that keeps me moving forward.”

Steven: “What I see among forcibly displaced persons. They find a way to keep putting one foot forward, to extend one hand to help another hand, to give one smile to somebody who needs a smile. I find that very hopeful.”

***The value of selflessness***

RMAF Trustee Emily Abrera provided the closing message:

“So there were many insights.  I hope you will continue reflecting on, among them, the interconnectivity of problems… and so are solutions interconnected…  And solutions can spread just as quickly, and it’s why we have this session.”

“RMAF’s continuing relevance in Asia is in harnessing the strengths and imparting the wisdom and the inspiration of Magsaysay awardees. We help make those thought connections among the past, the current, and the future to bring about an intergenerational continuity of true leadership.”

“Somewhere along the way, having given so much of themselves, they became selfless. But because they became one with the people they wanted to help, their spirits in turn expanded and grew in awareness and understanding. And to be selfless yet one with those you serve is a very good definition of greatness of spirit, I think, and it’s a good aspiration for young people. You see how RMAF and its laureates are changing Asia, not by wealth or power, but by sheer commitment to do good, the little good they do step by step, by their greatness of spirit… in fact, although they never think of it.”

“They are points of light today, just as you will be in the future if you start today.”