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The First Responders named Straits Times’ Asians of the Year

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Four men of courage and two disaster relief organisations collectively labelled The First Responders are The Straits Times' Asians of the Year.

The late Mr Ng Kok Choong, the Singaporean paraglider who was acclaimed for his rescue work in the aftermath of the earthquake in Central Sulawesi; Indian Navy helicopter pilots P. Rajkumar and Vijay Varma whose death-defying rescue flying saved dozens of lives during the floods in Kerala, India; and Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman of Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency, were the four men named for the award this year.

Also recognised were Singapore's Mercy Relief and the Jakarta-based Asean Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre). The winners were announced at yesterday's Straits Times Global Outlook Forum.

In deciding to honour The First Responders, the second time it has gone to a group since the award was instituted in 2012, Straits Times editors kept in mind the fact that across Asia the scale of disasters, and the extent of devastation they cause, has increased over the decade past.


This year, Japan suffered some of its worst floods in recent memory, as did the southern Indian state of Kerala.

Indonesia has been struck with more than one severe earthquake.

The AHA Centre, Mercy Relief, and the men named have operated in plain sight.

Amid large scale flooding, earthquakes and a variety of other disasters they have served as a beacon of selflessness and the finest instincts of mankind - to preserve and protect the flock at the cost of their own lives, if necessary.

Mr Warren Fernandez, editor-in-chief of the Singapore Press Holdings' English, Malay, Tamil Media Group, who is also editor of The Straits Times, said The First Responders were picked after the briefest of debates because theirs was a standout case of courage and selflessness.

"In an Asia witnessing disasters of increasing frequency and intensity, it is clear that there is noting like 'over there' anymore - we all are equally affected," he said.

"These men, and the two organisations we picked, have taught us through personal example that at the end of the day security is indivisible."

Mr Ng's widow Sharon, who was present to receive the award from Mr Fernandez, said she was gratified that her late husband's selfless act had been recognised.

"It was something he'd have done anywhere, anytime," Mrs Ng, accompanied by her 28-year-old son Marcus, told The Straits Times.

"He was a man of action and an example to others that everyone can help in some way. If Kok Choong had been alive he'd have been thrilled to bits."

Mercy Relief executive director Nasaruddin Shafawi said the award for his organisation came as a pleasant surprise, more so since Mercy Relief had just celebrated its 15th anniversary.

"This has been a year of back-to-back challenges," he said. "Since August, we've responded to no less than five major disasters, including the Japan floods and the Sulawesi tsunami and earthquake."