People displaced by war, natural disasters, and extreme privation is one of the great tragedies of our time. It is an urgent challenge governments and international bodies must address; it must be faced as well on the ground with the victims of such displacement.
This is the lifework of one person and the organization he founded. STEVEN MUNCY, a sixty-four-year-old American, was raised in a humble family grounded in the principles of Christian love for others. In 1980, he enlisted in a Baptist journeyman social ministry program that brought him as a volunteer to the Philippine Refugee Processing Center in Morong, Bataan, a transit center for Indochinese refugees of the just-ended Vietnam War. Seeing the dire lack of psychosocial services in the camp, he formed a non-governmental organization (NGO), Community Mental Health Services, to address this need with support from the Norwegian government and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In 1989-1993, the NGO was also tasked by UNHCR to do similar work in the Vietnamese refugee camps in Hong Kong.
Renamed Community and Family Services International (CFSI) in 1989, it defined itself as a humanitarian organization committed to “the lives, wellbeing and dignity of people uprooted by persecution, armed conflict, disasters, and other exceptionally difficult circumstances.” Based in the Philippines, it would soon serve for varying lengths of time in ten Asian countries, with its longest involvement in the Philippines, Myanmar and Vietnam.
Over the years, CFSI has assisted refugees from forty-eight countries and territories. In the Philippines, it has provided relief to thousands of families in natural disasters. Today, it is responding to the humanitarian disaster of the Battle of Marawi in 2017. With the Australian government’s support, it is implementing the Marawi Recovery Project, aimed at providing livelihood and other assistance to some 40,000 persons. With the United Nations Children’s Fund, CFSI helped with the transition of some nine hundred former child soldiers, assisting their families to get them back to school and lead peaceful, productive lives. In Myanmar’s Rakhine State, CFSI helped hundreds of thousands by providing literacy and reproductive health training for women and girls and working with communities to build water and sanitation facilities. CFSI also initiated a program that has enabled more than three hundred individuals from the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Indonesia to get advanced university degrees in social work.
A major CFSI engagement is its role in the Reconstruction and Development Projects of the Mindanao Trust Fund (MTF), a multi-donor effort administered by World Bank to aid in the socioeconomic recovery of Mindanao, carried out in 2005-2021 in the context of negotiations for a comprehensive peace agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. As project manager, CFSI implemented a large portfolio of sub-projects, ranging from water systems and health centers to alternative education, reaching at least 727,000 beneficiaries in nineteen provinces. Part of its work was capacitating local partners, work critical to a new regional government coming out of a history of conflict. In this engagement, CFSI demonstrated most clearly the links of the various aspects of its mission, from relief and recovery to reconstruction and development, to the building of peace.
From a few workers in 1981, CFSI has a current staff of nearly four hundred in three countries. What it has achieved is the effort of many. Yet, it is also the creation of its founder and leader. STEVEN MUNCY has been on this mission for more than forty years, living outside his own country, working in a difficult environment, with no thought of material rewards for himself. Asked about his career, MUNCY self-effacingly said: “I am so grateful for the opportunities that have allowed me to help a little; grateful for the people who have been involved in this organization; grateful for the blessings I have received from the community.”
In electing STEVEN MUNCY to receive the 2021 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes his unshakable belief in the goodness of man that inspires in others the desire to serve; his life-long dedication to humanitarian work, refugee assistance, and peace building; and his unstinting pursuit of dignity, peace, and harmony for people in exceptionally difficult circumstances in Asia.