Activist Kyaw Thu to Receive Prestigious Magsaysay Award

By Moe Myint Aung 29 July 2015

RANGOON — Social worker and activist Kyaw Thu, known primarily as the founder of Burma’s Free Funeral Service Society (FFSS), will travel to the Philippines next month to accept a Ramon Magsaysay Award for his public service.

The award ceremony will be held in the capital Manila on August 31, and will be joined by other recipients from across the globe.

The Ramon Magsaysay Award was established in 1957 to perpetuate the legacy of the former Philippine president for which it was named. Awards are granted annually for excellence in emergent leadership or other extraordinary public achievement.

Recipients are selected regardless of race, nationality, faith or gender for exemplary contributions to their societies, and the honor is widely viewed as the Asian equivalent to the Nobel Prize.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy after the announcement on Wednesday, Kyaw Thu expressed gratitude and vowed to continue his work to support Burma’s disadvantaged in times of need.

“The Philippine government provides money, but I don’t know how much,” Kyaw Thu said, “and after I receive the award I will carry on in my social works.”

Kyaw Thu is founded the Rangoon chapter of the FFSS in 2001, which has since provided more than 120,000 free funerals to families in Burma. He also operates a free healthcare clinic, and has inspired many Burmese youths to become involved in charity work.

Once a star of the silver screen, he has also received a Burmese Academy Award.

Remarking on rumors that the much-loved figure might seek office in parliamentary elections set for Nov. 8, Kyaw Thu said: “I will never try to run in the election, my endeavors are in the field of artistry and social works throughout my lifetime.”

Kyaw Thu is not the only Burmese activist to receive the prestigious Philippine honor. In 2013, Kachin humanitarian worker Laphai Seng Raw, cofounder of the Metta Foundation, was also selected for the prize.

The Metta Foundation, one of Burma’s largest and most well-known civil society groups, offers healthcare, a range of agricultural assistance and peace building projects in northern Burma’s war-torn Kachin State.

The list of this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award winners also includes Kommaly Chanthavong (Laos), Sanjiv Chathurvedi (India), Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa (Philippines) and Anshu Gupta (India).