Over the years, Bangladesh has seen a lot of foreign nationals coming forward to contribute to its economic and social progress. Some of them has come and gone, making a contribution in big ways or small, but some others have been so deeply touched with our culture and people that they left their homes and families at distant places to settle down in this country.
Take British-born Valerie Ann Taylor as an example.She was born on February 8, 1944 in Buckinghamshire, UK, and came to Bangladesh to work as a physiotherapist with Voluntary Society Overseas (VSO) in 1969. The young lady was only intended to stay for 15 months to perform the duty bestowed upon her, see the country, and then return to her easy life in the UK. But God had other plans for her. For which, five decades later, she is still living in this country and is hailed as the ‘Mother Teresa of Bangladesh’.
What the noble philanthropist has done and accomplished is known to almost all, but allow me to give a quick reminder:
Less than two years after her arrival, the Liberation War broke out and she was forced to leave the country, but she returned two months before the independence to treat the wounded people. She was particularly disturbed by the lack of treatment facilities for people with spinal injures. So, she returned to London in 1973 to raise funds to establish a rehabilitation centre for such patients. Two years later in 1975 she came back to Dhaka, still short of cash to set up a rehabilitation centre.
However, by then she had a dream, and she worked hard with unshakable determination to turn that dream into reality. After four more years, she managed to establish the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP) in 1979. At the beginning she was running CRP with four patients in an abandoned warehouse of the Shaheed Suhrawardy Hospital.
After 10 more years of sheer persistence, Valerie managed to found a permanent home of CRP in Savar. There is a 100-bed hospital for patients with spinal injuries, an operating theatre, and workshops where patients are given vocational training. Other services include medical, therapy and diagnostic services and training of health professionals up to BSC in affiliation with renowned institutions like Dhaka University.
Apart from the head office in Savar, CRP also operates in at least a dozen arrears across the country as a lighthouse of hope for persons with disabilities.
Meanwhile, Valerie Taylor has been honoured with numerous awards including OBE (Order of the British Empire) for her outstanding efforts in providing holistic treatment for the paralysed in 1995 and the Independence Award, the highest civilian award of Bangladesh, in 2004. In 1998 she was granted Bangladeshi citizenship by the Bangladesh Government.
She is now 75 years old and is still working as energetically as ever to ease the sufferings of the disabled people, break the barriers they face and remove the stigma associated with the disease.
Lucy Holt – A life dedicated to
Lucy Helen Francis Holt, who was born on December 16, 1930 in the British town of St Helens, was inspired to serve humanity when she was only 19 years old. To respond to that noble calling she gave up teaching at Cole Hills Junior School and chose nursing as her profession. In 1960 she left her place of birth and came to the then East Pakistan. She joined Barisal Oxford Mission that year to work as a Catholic Sister. Besides, she served as a nurse in a local hospital and taught English to school children for free. Eventually, she too stayed back due to her love for Bangladesh and its people.
During the Liberation War, she was asked to leave, but she didn’t. Instead she worked at Fatema Hospital, risking her life. Although she was not a doctor, shortage of doctors compelled her to treat many war-wounded and civilian patients.
She also wrote many letters to her friends in England to support the independence movement of Bangladesh. After independence she was so amazed by Bangabandhu that she sent a letter and a handkerchief embroidered by herself as gift to his wife Bangamata Fazilatunnesa Mujib. In response, Sheikh Rehana sent her a letter on behalf of her mother.
Finally, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina handed over a Bangladeshi citizenship certificate to Lucy Helen at a function at her official Ganabhaban residence on 12 February.
Now in her retired life, she is teaching English to children and sharing valuable tips with parents on how to ensure children’s proper mental growth. Besides, Lucy collects fund from the rich people for distressed children.
Sir Frank Peters – The ‘half-Bangladeshi’
Irish-born Sir Frank Peters came to know about Bangladesh in its direst hour during the War of Liberation. At that time he worked tirelessly to raise money to help meet some of the needs of the nation struggling to be free. After nine months the war ended, but the needs of the country did not. To answer to these ever-growing needs, Sir Frank kept coming back again and again, and thus, his bond with Bangladesh grew stronger by the year.
After independence he raised funds for the distressed and struggling families of Freedom Fighters who had fallen on hard times, and even today he is involved in various charities to help the have-nots, innovative projects to uplift the country’s image and awareness raising campaign for social progress.
Earlier in a BBC Radio programme he famously announced that he is “half-Bangladeshi.” But gradually his love for this land grew so intense that now he considers himself “more Bangladeshi than Irish.”
Sir Frank Peters, who was awarded honorary knighthood for social service, has been a former newspaper and magazine publisher and editor, royal goodwill ambassador of different European countries and a human rights activist. In Bangladesh he is probably best known for his crusade against corporal punishment. For eight years he has been campaigning to abolish corporal punishment to children in schools and madrasas. A law was introduced in 2011 and both he and Bangladesh were applauded worldwide. In gratitude of his successful campaign, no less than three Bangladeshi babies have been named ‘Frank Peters’.
Justice Muhammad Imman Ali, one of the two Supreme Court justices who banned corporal punishment, wrote the following inscription in the book he presented to him: “To: Sir Frank Peters who brings happiness to Bangladesh, especially the children. Very best wishes.”
He is known to be enjoying a special bond with the begging community in Gulshan. The beggars call him “Bondhu Hasse” in fondness and admiration and they flock like birds to him whenever he approaches. He’s seen the children develop into adults over the years and treats all beggars as he would the sons and daughters of the most venerated members of society. “They’re all Allah’s children,” he says.
Why the pet name “Bondhu Hasse”? Because he only gives to those who exchange a smile for his financial assistance! He has feelings and deep sympathy for the beggar community. Beggar children rush to him with requests for soap, a toothbrush, a tee shirt and such and he never fails to deliver. He takes pictures of the mother with her children and gives them a print. – Most probably, the only and most precious photographs they own.
He says Bangladesh is a country that has many unique qualities and much to offer the world. However, he is disappointed by ‘very unprofessional’ ways of doing things at various government and non-government agencies, which certainly ‘does not enhance the country’s image.’
William Christensen – Transforming lives quietly
I got acquainted with William Christensen late last year during the 7th anniversary celebration of daily sun. I knew he is from Chicago, USA – so I began to converse with him in English. But suddenly, like a bolt out of the blue, he started speaking in Bangla fluently. Pleasantly surprised, I inquired about the secret. “I have been living in Bangladesh since 1986,” he replied, asking me about my age. It turned out he came to Bangladesh even before me.
I was momentarily flummoxed thinking when we Bangladeshis are making a beeline to go to America, an American is living among us for over 30 years, and wishes to die and be buried in this land!
However, he is not doing it for nothing. In the last three decades he helped over three lakh people come out of poverty. How? Listen in his own words, “I first arrived in Bangladesh on January 16, 1986. I had previously, perhaps a year before, visited for a few days. Department of Social Welfare, a friend in an NGO, another in Economic Relations Divisions (ERD) and others showed interest in my concept for rural development.”
“I was interested to develop a model for the densely populated, high poverty level area from Uttar Pradesh through Bihar, West Bengal and Bangladesh. Though I had already set up a small project in North Bihar, I felt that Bangladesh was more suited to establish the model.”
“An NGO was set up from 1986, it was called Institute of Integrated Rural Development (IIRD) until 2011; from 2012 it has been named Poverty Eradication Program (PEP). It works in nine upazilas of four districts—three upazilas in Bagura and two each in Netrokona, Kishoreganj and Chandpur. The organisation is working to reduce poverty in each upazila. From the 1999 ratings of all families till the 2015, there have been 64,871 families (about 324,355 persons) who graduated from poverty.”
“Efforts include fostering more balanced and dynamic local economies and more just social systems, giving proper recognition to women and the poor.”
On asked about his feelings for Bangladesh and its people he said, “I love Bangladesh and its people. Although there have been a small number who have tried to harm me and destroy the organisation, there have been many more good friends who have worked to help with the development efforts and to encourage me.”
He says whatever life he has left, he wants to continue work to help the poor, strengthen PEP and assist a family in Nikli, Kishoreganj whose father died prematurely in December 2005, leaving eight young children and their mother helpless. He adopted those eight children.
What Valerie Taylor, Lucy Holt, Frank Peters and William Christensen did and continue to do for Bangladesh was out of the goodness of their hearts and greatness of their minds. But as Bangladeshis, we actually have a lot of debt to our country which requires us to devote our time and energy for its wellbeing and we would do well to do a little introspection. We should take a moment and ask ourselves: Do we love our country?
If the answer is yes, then when was the last time we did something for it and for the people?
The writer is a journalist