Magsaysay Award to Community-Driven Reformer of Learning

Sonam Wangchuk Ladakhi engineer and innovator from India Is one amongst six individuals who will receive Asia’s premier prize, the Ramon Magsaysay Award 2018 in the 60th year of an annual tradition, the Board of Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) announced on Thursday July 26, 2018.

Ramon Magsaysay Award – established in 1957, is Asia’s highest honour. It celebrates the memory and leadership example of the third Philippine president after whom the award is named, and is given every year to individuals or organizations in Asia who manifest the same selfless service and transformative influence that ruled the life of the late and beloved Filipino leader.

Magsaysay awardees 2018: Youk Chhang from Cambodia, Maria de Lourdes Martins Cruz from East Timor, Howard Dee, from the Philippines, Bharat Vatwani from India, Vo Thi Hoang Yen from Vietnam and Sonam Wangchuk from India;  will now be part of the community of 324 other Magsaysay laureates who have received Asia’s highest honour to date. Magsaysay Award winners of 2018 will be formally conferred the Magsaysay Award during formal Presentation Ceremonies to be held on Friday, 31 August 2018 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Each of the 6 awardees will receive a certificate, a medallion bearing the likeness of the late President, and a cash prize.

Sonam Wangchuk, a 51-year-old educational reformer and real-life innovator has taken on both manmade and natural challenges over three decades to improve life in Ladakh.  widely regarded as the inspiration for Aamir Khan’s character, Phunsuk Wangdu in the film ‘3 Idiots’ in 2009, is being recognized for “his uniquely systematic, collaborative and community-driven reform of learning systems in remote northern India, thus improving the life opportunities of Ladakhi youth, and his constructive engagement of all sectors in local society to harness science and culture creatively for economic progress, thus setting an example for minority peoples in the world”, the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation said in its citation.

  • Wangchuk was a 19-year-old engineering student at the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar, when he took up tutoring.
  • He helped unprepared students pass the national college matriculation exams.
  • Wangchuk is the founding director of the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement (SECMOL) of Ladakh that was founded in 1988 to coach Ladakhi students, 95% of whom used to fail the government exams.
  • SECMOL experimented with syllabus focusing on local knowledge for answers to the challenges posed by the difficult terrain, by doing away with “alien knowledge”, and with each passing year, SECMOL’s results were there for all to see.
  • Wangchuk said, “We need to have confidence in ourselves. It should be us who do it. We don’t need New York or London to give us answers”.
  • SECMOL campus designed by Wangchuk runs entirely on solar energy.
  • Wangchuk in the lead launched  in 1994: Operation New Hope to consolidate the programme .
  • Wangchuk invented in 2013 the Ice Stupa technique that helps create an artificial glacier for the purpose of storing water in winter to meet the demand for water in Ladakh..
  • Wangchuk is currently setting up the Rs. 150 crore Himalayan Institute of Alternatives (HIAL), Ladakh in the Phyang Valley, 14 km from Leh.

Wangchuk is hopeful that the Magsaysay Award “will provide youth a boost in finding indigenous solutions to the problems of mountain people.” “I don’t feel I deserve it alone as an individual. It belongs to every student, every teacher, every leader and every dreamer in Ladakh”. Magsaysay Award to Wangchuk is the:

  • Acknowledgement of innovation by a minority in a challenging atmosphere, and of the adversity of the mountains.
  • Acknowledgement of the courage to find solutions to those problems rather than cursing them or planning to migrate or running away from them.
  • Recognition of the spirit of taking on the challenges and innovating to address the problems.
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