Singapore 'food sharing' pioneer among winners of Magsaysay awards

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MANILA (Reuters) – The Singaporean founder of a volunteer group providing hot meals to the poor is among this year’s six winners of the Philippines’ Magsaysay awards, the foundation responsible for the awards said on Thursday.

Tony Tay’s “Willing Hearts” group distributes thousands of meals everyday in the wealthy city state, where about 10 percent of a population of 5.7 million live in poverty, the Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation said in a statement.

The winners of the awards, widely seen as Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel prizes, will receive a sum of $50,000 at a ceremony set for late August.

“The Magsaysay awardees are all transforming their societies through their manifest commitment to the larger good,” said Carmencita Abella, president of the Manila-based foundation.

“All are unafraid to take on larger causes. All have refused to give up despite meager resources, daunting adversity and strong opposition,” Abella said in the statement.

Tay, born in poverty, abandoned at age five and put in care at an orphanage with a sister, was recognised for “sharing food with others” afteer having organised a group of 300 volunteers in 2009 to provide meals to those in want.

“We are just sharing, sharing all that we have in life to make a better society,” the 70 year-old businessman, who had to drop out of school to go to work, was quoted as saying in the foundation’s statement.

Also honoured were Japan’s Yoshiaki Ishizawa, cited for having empowered Cambodians to preserve their culture, and Indonesia’s Abdon Nababan, who worked to support the rights of indigenous people in a country that is home to the world’s largest Muslim population.

Among the winners were Sri Lanka’s Gethsie Shanmugam, who helped rebuild the war-scarred lives of women and children; and Lilia de Lima of the Philippines, who led the country’s economic zone authority for many years.

The Philippine Educational Theater Association was also recognised for its “bold, collective contributions in shaping theater arts as a force for social change”, setting an example in Asia.

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

About 300 people and 25 organisations, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the International Rice Rsearch Institute, have been recognised since 1958.

Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Clarence Fernandez