On the morning of August 6, 1945, eighteen-year-old
NOBORU IWAMURA was busy conducting an experiment in the laboratory of the Hiroshima
Institute of Engineering and Technology when the atomic bomb exploded just 1.2 kilometers
away. Heavy cement walls collapsed over him. Three days later rescue workers found him
alive beneath the debris. Of his classmates, only he survived. Contemplating the loss of
his friends and the miracle of his own survival, IWAMURA resolved to become a doctor and
to live his life for others.
IWAMURA undertook his medical traning at Tottori University School of Medicine and, in
1958, joined its faculty as an associate professor. In 1960 he applied to go abroad with
the Japan Overseas Christian Medical Cooperative Service. With his wife, IWAMURA spent the
next eighteen years in Nepal. Working at first in the city of Kathmandu, he learned that
many of his patients reached the hospital after trekking great distances and, all too
often, only when their diseases were already fatally advanced. Why should sick people
imperil themselves trying to reach me, he wondered, when I, a healthy doctor, can go to
IWAMURA became a "barefoot doctor," striking out on foot and on horseback
into the mountain fastnesses where many Nepalis dwelled without benefit of medical
services and where tuberculosis was pandemic. In time he came to understand the
relationship between the sickness of villagers and their poverty end ignorance. IWAMURA
began experimenting with public health and livelihood projects. In doing so, he
encountered a cardinal truth of rural development: "Uplift" programs driven
solely by outside donors and specialists are bound to fail. Only when such efforts are
geared toward self-reliance and when these are led by dedicated people from within the
communities themselves do they truly succeed and endure.
In 1980, having returned to Japan, IWAMURA joined the International Center for Medical
Cooperation at the Kobe University School of Medicine. From 1985 to 1987 he led a Japanese
government team assisting in primary health care in Thailand. By this time IWAMURA had
traveled throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America and discovered the ubiquity of the
sort of poverty he had first encountered in Nepal. Yet to IWAMURA, the Japanese seemed to
be enjoying lives of abundance without being aware of their country's relationship to its
poorer Asian neighbors, or its dependence upon them. Calling upon the insights of his
years in Nepal and Thailand, he began guiding the philanthropic instincts of his fellow
Japanese to focus on urgent needs abroad, and on modest but practical ways in which these
needs can be met.
In 1980 IWAMURA founded the Peace, Health, and Human Development Foundation (PHD) to
bring grass-roots community leaders from Nepal and Southeast Asia to Japan for technical
training. And in 1985 he established the International Human Resources Institute to
sponsor young rural development workers for their master's degrees in Community
Development at the University of the Philippines in Diliman and Los Banos. IWAMURA takes a
personal interest in choosing students for the program, prizing above all those candidates
who are committed to carry on in community work and who possess a missionary spirit.
Fearing the genetic consequences of the nuclear blast, the Iwamuras chose to have no
children of their own. While in Nepal, however, they raised and educated twelve Nepali
orphans. These children are grown now. And it is with them, each year in Nepal, that
66-year-old IWAMURA celebrates Christmas.
In electing NOBORU IWAMURA to receive the 1993 Ramon Magsaysay Award for International
Understanding, the Board of Trustees recognizes his heeding the call of the true physician
in a lifetime of service to Japan's Asian neighbors.