MANILA • Mr Tony Tay, the founder of Singapore volunteer group Willing Hearts, which provides hot meals to the needy, is one of the six winners of the Philippines' Magsaysay awards this year.
The 70-year-old retired businessman is only the third Singaporean to win the award widely seen as Asia's answer to the Nobel Prize. Late pioneer ministers Lim Kim San and Goh Keng Swee won the award in 1965 and 1972, respectively.
In a statement announcing the winners yesterday, the Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation said Mr Tay was recognised for "his quiet, abiding dedication to a simple act of kindness - sharing food with others - and his inspiring influence in enlarging this simple kindness into a collective, inclusive, vibrant volunteer movement that is nurturing the lives of many in Singapore".
Mr Tay's group distributes thousands of meals daily to the poor in Singapore, the foundation said in its citation.
The winners will each receive a sum of US$50,000 (S$68,000) at a ceremony set for next month, Reuters reported.
"The Magsaysay awardees are all transforming their societies through their manifest commitment to the larger good," said Ms Carmencita Abella, president of the Manila-based foundation.
"All are unafraid to take on larger causes. All have refused to give up despite meagre resources, daunting adversity and strong opposition," she said in the statement.
In its citation on Mr Tay, the foundation said he was recognised for organising a group of 300 volunteers in 2009 to provide meals to those in need.
Willing Hearts has extended its services to optical and dental care "so people can better enjoy their food", Mr Tay was quoted as saying in the citation.
He said: "We are just sharing, sharing all that we have in life to make a better society."
On what motivated him to help the needy, Mr Tay said in an interview with The Straits Times last year: "I was eating donated food up to when I was 15 years old. I come from a single-parent family and was put in a convent when I was five to 10 years old. They gave me food, clothing and love."
Asked about the win yesterday, Mr Tay told The Straits Times: "Without all the volunteers, there is no Willing Hearts."
On future plans and whether Willing Hearts will expand, he said: "One day at a time. Let God decide."
This year's winners include Japan's Mr Yoshiaki Ishizawa, who empowered Cambodians to preserve their culture; and Indonesia's Mr Abdon Nababan, who worked to support the rights of indigenous people in a country that is home to the world's largest Muslim population, Reuters reported.
Other winners are Sri Lanka's Ms Gethsie Shanmugam, who helped rebuild the war-scarred lives of women and children; and Ms Lilia de Lima of the Philippines, who led its economic zone authority for many years, said Reuters.
The Philippine Educational Theatre Association was also recognised for "shaping theatre arts as a force for social change", setting an example in Asia.
The awards, named after a popular Philippine president killed in a plane crash, were set up in 1957 by the trustees of the New York-based Rockefeller Brothers Fund, to celebrate "greatness of spirit and transformative leadership in Asia".
About 300 people and 25 organisations, including the Association of South-east Asian Nations or Asean, have been recognised since 1958, Reuters reported.