The All Blacks supporter was on the way to Japan when she received news that she was a recipient of the Asean Prize award, the first Malaysian to get the honour.
She “abandoned” her husband in Japan to fly to Bangkok to receive the award yesterday from Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha before nine other Asean leaders including Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the opening ceremony of the 35th Asean Summit.
“I am a huge rugby fan and I missed the final but it’s ok,” Dr Jemilah said, referring to the South Africa vs England match.
She received a trophy and US$20,000 (RM83,150). The Asean Prize is a prestigious regional award that acknowledges inspiring and outstanding achievements of an individual or organisation in fostering the Asean identity, promoting the Asean spirit and championing the Asean way.
Looking resplendent in deep blue kebaya, the founder of Mercy Malaysia said she would contribute part of the cash to the Surin Pitsuwan Foundation, recently set up after the late former Asean secretary-general to promote education, diplomacy and human security.
Surin’s eldest son Fuadi, who was present at the interview with Dr Jemilah, said the foundation was part of efforts to continue the work his father had started.
Dr Jemilah, who is now Under Secretary General Partnerships, International Federation of Red Cross & Crescent Societies based in Geneva, said Surin was like her own brother and a mentor in her humanitarian works.
She will also contribute part of the money to the Malaysian Red Crescent Society.
Dr Jemilah hoped she could inspire other people to get involved in humanitarian and voluntary work.
“We live in a peaceful country and Asean itself is quite prosperous with many economic opportunities available but we are also faced with vulnerabilities and risks.
“If we within Asean are unable to manage conflicts and disasters, it will be a problem. Instead, we should be a good example to the rest,” she said.
After 15 years away from home, Dr Jemilah, who had also served at the United Nations in New York, felt it was time to return home.
“I need a break and will later see how I can contribute to the country.
“When I started Mercy, I couldn’t stand the fact that every time
I turned on the TV, there was never an Asian or African face assisting. It was always some Caucasian. I have nothing against Caucasians but there was no diversity and balance.
“I felt at that time, as a rapidly developing country, how do we measure our progress? Is it via GDP and highways? Surely development is much bigger than that? Surely it is also about holistic development and compassion?” she added.
Dr Mahathir in an immediate reaction said he was glad Dr Jemilah’s work had received recognition.
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