Dr. CHHIM Sotheara, a Cambodian psychiatrist who treats Khmer Rouge victims, was named as one of the four recipients of the 2022 Ramon Magsaysay Award, also known as Asia’s Nobel Prize.
The annual award, which was first given out in 1957 and is named for the president of the Philippines who died in an airplane crash, is given to individuals who have contributed “selfless service to the peoples of Asia.”
He was honored for dedicated his life to treating victims of the Khmer Rouge, with a focus on “baksbat” or “broken courage,” a syndrome that is widespread in Cambodia and is similar to post-traumatic stress disorder.
When the Khmer Rouge seized control of Cambodia in 1975, Sotheara Chhim was just seven years old. People were transported from the cities to rural camps for slave labor and “reeducation.”
Children were taken away from their parents, like Chhim. When Phnom Penh was liberated in 1979, it took more than three years for the boy to be reunited with his family.
After the conflict, Chhim became one of the first Cambodian psychiatrists to graduate from Phnom Penh’s University of Health Sciences.
The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation remarked that Chhim’s task was difficult in the face of the psychological damage caused by a genocidal regime that claimed 1.7 million lives.
Chhim is one of the Ramon Magsaysay Award recipients for this year, commonly known as “Asia’s Nobel Prize.”
Chhim was given an award for “his calm courage in overcoming profound trauma to become his people’s healer,” according to the body that awarded it. The Award recognized his “transformative work in the face of overwhelming need and seemingly insurmountable difficulties.”
Although Dr. Chhim is located in Phnom Penh and serves as the executive director of the NGO, Transcultural Psychosocial Organization, he frequently travels throughout the country.
The organization offers psychological and mental health services to the people of Cambodia at the community level, focusing on individuals who have been traumatized by the Khmer Rouge and those who experience mental health issues as a result of a lack of social support and poverty. It develops programs that allow people to assist themselves and to contribute to their families, communities, and society.
Chhim is honored “for proving that daily devotion to one’s job may itself be a sign of grandeur.”