ASIA A Cambodian psychiatrist won the Asia Nobel for his help to the victims of the Khmer Rouge

Sotheara Chhim, 54, a survivor of the Maoist regime’s genocide, has been treating people with post-traumatic stress disorder for years. Other winners of the Ramon Magsaysay award are a Filipino doctor, a French environmentalist and a Japanese ophthalmologist.

Milan () – A Cambodian psychiatrist who treats victims of the Khmer Rouge regime is one of the winners of the Ramon Magsaysay award, also known as the “Nobel Prize of Asia”. Sotheara Chhim, 54, a survivor of the Maoist regime, with her Transcultural Psychosocial Organization (TPO) has focused on the treatment of what is known in Cambodia as “baksbat”, post-traumatic stress disorder.

The organizers of the Magsaysay Prize -instituted in 1957, whose name refers to a Philippine president who died in a plane crash- highlighted the “serene courage” of the psychiatrist, which allowed him to “overcome a deep trauma and become a healer of his own people “.

In the 1970s the Khmer Rouge killed nearly a quarter of the Cambodian population with mass executions and forced labor, and starved the entire population. “As a victim, I was traumatized,” Sotheara said in a 2017 interview, “but working to help other survivors also helped me heal myself.” TPO Cambodia, founded in 1995, has provided psychological assistance to more than 200,000 Cambodian citizens over the years.

Sotheara was evacuated from Phnom Penh in 1975; when he was 7 years old he was separated from his family and recruited by the Khmer Rouge along with other children to dig a canal in Kandal Stoeung district. When the regime fell in 1979 he returned to the capital and his mother encouraged him to study medicine: “My mother wanted me to study medicine because she saw that many people who had survived the Khmer Rouge regime were sick, physically and mentally. . Many doctors were killed during that time. As far as I know, in 1979 there were about 40 doctors in the whole country”, Sotheara told in 2019. He then began a brilliant career that led him to obtain a research doctorate at Monash University in Melbourne and at the same time running the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization in Cambodia.

The other personalities working in Asia who have received the recognition are Gary Bencheghib, 27, a French environmental activist and film director who, together with his brother, built kayaks out of plastic bottles and bamboo to collect waste in the Citarum River in Indonesia, one of the most polluted in the world. Philippine doctor Bernadette Madrid, 64, received the award for creating children’s centers that help victims of domestic abuse. Japanese ophthalmologist Tadashi Hattori, 58, was honored for offering free surgeries in Vietnam, where specialized structures and eye doctors are limited. At the end of November, the formal awards ceremony will be held in Manila, the capital of the Philippines.

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Written by Editor TLN

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