Burma, Ramon Magsaysay Award, Lahpai Seng Raw, Asia

At 64, Laphai Seng Raw is still energetic.

She’s involved in various humanitarian activities in Kachin state.

“Courage comes from people. Myanmar, our country, is full of courageous people – men, women, young and old. We are very courageous that is where I get my strength.”

Over the last 15 years, Laphai Seng Raw and her Metta Development Foundation have provided assistance to Burma’s ethnic minorities displaced because of the war.

They also help people affected by natural disasters.

“We have been in war and conflict for too many years. The education opportunity has been lacking. Poverty, displacement – it’s like a cycle that couldn’t break.  So it seems like your work is endless, that’s the challenge.”

For her tireless work, she’s been awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award – often considered Asia’s Nobel Prize.

“As I always say, it’s a collective achievement. I’m grateful for everyone, including the government of Myanmar, ethnic leaders and communities who have welcomed us, and also my colleagues from the Metta Development Foundation. And also other local NGOs, everyone in the field... they have given their own to be in recognition in the country.”

Lahpai Seng Raw is the first ethnic Kachin to win the award. She started her humanitarian work when she was 40.

“I was on Sino-Burma border. At that time, there were over ten thousand Kachin refugees inside China along the border. I met them and I talked to them. And then, I saw how desperate they were. Yes, that moved me doing something useful for those people in-need.”

Under the military regime, many ethnic groups fought against the government for greater autonomy. And in some parts of Burma, the armed conflict still continues.

Laphai Seng Raw says there must be a political solution to the conflict.

“The root cause is politics. So this cannot be solved by military means, it has to be solved politically. I support any leader who try to really bring about to the solution.”

Along with the award, Laphai Seng Raw also receives a 50 thousand US dollars cash prize.

She says she will use it for a development project in Mytsone in Kachin state.

A controversial China-backed dam project there faces an uncertain future after it was suspended two years ago.

Local villagers were forced to leave the area and they’re now panning for gold to support themselves. And Laphai Seng Raw wants to raise people’s awareness about environmental and human rights issues.

May Sabe Phyu Hkawn Htoi is the coordinator of the Kachin Women’s Peace Network. 

“This award is highly recognized, not only to Laphai Seng Raw but also to all Kachin women who have been engaged in the development and humanitarian responses. I feel very proud and grateful for her. She deserves it. She has done a lot of good thing for our Kachin community as well as the whole civil society of Myanmar.”

She hopes that Laphai Seng Raw’s award will inspire other women to do the same .

“This is our new page, that the international community is acknowledging women contribution to her own community, to her own country. So I hope that the community or the civil society in Burma will recognize women role more and their involvement in peace and humanitarian responses in the future.”


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