Sonam Wangchuk – the inspiration behind Aamir Khan’s character in Rajkumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots – is one of the two Indians selected for this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award which is regarded as the Asian version of the Nobel Prize. The second Indian selected to be conferred with the award is Bharat Vatwani, who has been recognised for ‘his tremendous courage and healing compassion in embracing India’s mentally-afflicted destitute, and his steadfast and magnanimous dedication to the work of restoring and affirming the human dignity of even the most ostracized,’ the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation said in its citation for the winner.
Wangchuk, 51, is being recognised 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,” it said.
Here is all you need to know about Sonam Wangchuk:
1. Born in September 1966, Wangchuk is a Ladakhi engineer, innovator and education reformist.
2. He founded the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) in 1988. It is a non-traditional school which brought in educational reform in the region and improved the number of students clearing exams up to intermediate level.
3. He also designed the SECMOL campus that runs on solar energy and uses no fossil fuels for cooking, lighting or heating.
4. The engineer-turned educationist plans to set up a university – Himalayan Institute of Alternatives, Ladakh – over 200 acres in Phyang Valley for which he has been allotted land by the Ladakh Hill Council.
5. To fund his one-year-old idea, Wangchuk has joined hands with the crowdfunding platform Milaap to raise initial funding.
Youk Chhang from Cambodia, Maria de Lourdes Martins Cruz from East Timor, Howard Dee from the Philippines and Vo Thi Hoang Yen from Vietnam are other winners of the award. Established in 1957, the Ramon Magsaysay Award is Asia’s highest honour.