Taiwan vegetable vendor among winners of top Asia prize

A Taiwanese vegetable vendor who gave away huge sums to charity and environmental activists from Indonesia and Bangladesh have won Asia's Magsaysay award this year, organisers said Thursday.

Chen Shu-chu, Ambrosius Ruwindrijarto, Syeda Rizwana Hasan and three others were cited by the Philippines-based foundation for their work in helping ease Asian poverty and empowering ordinary people.

Chen, who sleeps on the floor and eats just two vegetarian meals a day, was cited for her achievement in giving away US$320,000 out of her daily earnings as a vegetable vendor.

"The gravity and scale of Asia's social problems today are such that they demand large, complex and long-term programmes of assistance," the foundation said in a statement announcing the winners of the annual award.

"And yet, on occasion we are reminded that in a most elemental way, one can begin to change the world through seemingly ordinary acts of empathy and magnanimity."

Ruwindrijarto, 40, founded Indonesian wildlife protection group Telapak, which in 1999 began undercover investigations of the lucrative illegal trade in endangered hardwood.

His efforts led to him being detained in the premises of a timber company, physically assaulted, threatened with death, and pursued by a mob, but ultimately forced the government to tighten regulations in the industry.

Hasan, 44, and her Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association are behind an ongoing court battle to stop toxin-laden ships from entering Bangladesh, where they are dismantled as scrap in work that involves many child labourers.

The other winners include Romulo Davide, 74, a scientist whose discovery of worm-trapping fungi led to the development of the Philippines' first biological pest control product.

Ex-priest Kulandei Francis, 66, was cited for building a $40 million fund from the savings of women in India to finance village health and sanitation, housing, and children's education programmes.

Yang Saing Koma, 46, was honoured for setting up a non-governmental organisation, Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture, that helps thousands of farmers improve rice yields.

The awards, sometimes considered Asia's equivalent of the Nobel Prize, are named after a Philippine president, Ramon Magsaysay, who died in a 1957 plane crash.

This year's winners will receive their awards in Manila on August 31.

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