Myanmar movie star, four others win Magsaysay awards

MANILA (AFP) - A movie star from Myanmar, two Indians, a Filipina cultural researcher and a Laotian handicrafts promoter were named on Wednesday as this year's winners of Asia's Magsaysay Awards.

The Manila-based Ramon Magsaysay Awards, named after a Filipino president who was killed in a plane crash, were established in 1957 to honour people or groups who change communities for the better and are often described as Asia's Nobel Prize.

This year's awardees include celebrated Myanmar movie actor and director Kyaw Thu, 55, who founded a charity in 2001 to provide funeral services for the poor of Yangon.

From there, his Free Funeral Services Society has branched out to a free clinic, a school and charity work for victims of war and natural disasters "irrespective of ethnicity or religion", the Magsaysay foundation said.

Kyaw Thu has used his celebrity status to attract donations while carrying coffins and driving hearses himself to help dispel the stigma in Myanmar against those in burial services.

Anshu Gupta, 44 of India received an award for founding a volunteer organisation which redistributes donated items to the poor and victims of natural disasters, the award organisation said.

This includes scrap cloth which is used to make rugs, blankets and even sanitary napkins for the poor.

His countryman Sanjiv Chaturvedi, 40, received the award for years of fighting corruption and working for transparency during his decade of service in government, despite suffering demotion and harassment.

The Filipina recipient was Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa, 72, who was born to a prominent Philippine Catholic family but married a man from the Muslim regions of the south. She moved to that region where she fell in love with the fading indigenous arts of the local culture.

She received the Magsaysay award for her efforts to preserve the dance arts of Filipino Muslims while deepening their links to other Asian cultures, the organisers said.

Though trained as a nurse, Kommaly Chanthavong, 71, of Laos, received the award for her role in organising impoverished rural women into a silk-weaving group that eventually grew into various large-scale handicraft projects.

This has helped keep native cultural traditions alive while providing village women with a steady income, strengthening their position in society, the Magsaysay Foundation said.