An Eulogy to Sir Fazle Hassan Abed KCMG

In 1972 I just began to settle down in my normal life in Sylhet after returning from the Indian refugee camps. The days of the liberation war ripened me prematurely because of the sheer pressure of life, managing a family of 5 as an eleven years old. As soon as the schools in Sylhet opened its door for new classes I enrolled myself in Aided School, I used to ride my bicycle all over the town with my best friend Raju; Son of the then Colonel Dutta; One of these days bohemian Neo travelling exploration days I one day came across a approximately 4 feet by 2 feet signboard named ‘’ Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee[BRAC].’’ Reading signboards and neon signs was part of the most favourite hobbies still is till date.  Many people said to me that, ‘’I have a photogenic memory’’.

At the time my aunt Professor Momtaz Begum MP was talking to my mother to join her new project of Womens Rehabilitation Programme in Comilla under Ministry of Social Affairs to help those ladies who were subjected to the abuse of the Pakistan Army. Hence, the word rehabilitation was well known for me.

Meanwhile, a lot of changes took place in my life and transformed into a young man from those adolescent days. Forgot all about those boyhood memories due to the exuberant lifestyle of the youth. Moved from Sylhet to a few different towns and cities by this time.

In the monsoon of 1985 I was on an official tour in Pabna district to manage the first Upo Zila election for 3 different Upo Zillas namely, Chatmohor, Bhangura and Faridpur. I yet again came across the same signboard in Chatmohor; went in and visited their place. Which was just an eye opener for me; that was the first time I encountered the very word NGO. I saw their activities, was briefed by one of the managers there and was mesmerised to find the passion of these executives,  all most of all of them are university under graduates and post graduate degree holders. They were working their socks off in the midst of soggy, waterlogged, highly saturated muddy areas of Cholon Beel (the biggest swamp and wetland of Bangladesh), some 47 rivers meet at this beel. One of the most notoriously dispersed areas encompassing circa 25 square miles. All of the three Upo Zilas that I was going to operate falls in the middle of this swamp.

The centre manageress was very keen to speak about all of their programmes. Which was simply fascinating to listen to. I casually told her that, I have come across this name in 1972 somewhere in Sylhet town and she confirmed its origin. That was 1985 and since then BRAC has made a lot of progress away. I remained an innate and silent observer, critic and admirer at the same time.

BRAC under the dynamic leadership of Mr. Abed have been hoisting the red and green national colour to almost all nooks and cronies of the world with admiration and innovation. Although I have always thought micro finance does not solve poverty ; instead those women need to be  direct employment in lieu of that, vicious circle of repayment. Then again without the micro finances earning BRAC could have never achieved the level investment for its other flagship projects. The best £6000.00 one can invest as a social entrepreneur. I wonder what does it take for a British university educated, multi national oil companys accounts and financial executive to become a philanthropist? I guess it his passion, his conviction, his tenacity and above all his urge to serve humanity might have driven him to this. BRAC is now operating in 11 countries abroad and its presence in all 64 districts of Bangladesh. Turing over $700 million with a $400 million surplus and the founder of that conglomerate did not own a house is called honestly, devotion and selflessness.

From the humble beginning in 1972 BRAC has proven to be one of the pioneering social enterprises to engage in primary schooling, water,  nutrition and hygiene, oral saline to control diarrhoea, poverty elevation, women empowerment,  sanitation and open defecation. Bagging numerous awards at home and abroad including a knighthood from the Her Majesty the Queen of UK epitomises his pinnacles of achievements.  Nevertheless, I always thought that he deserved more at home and a Nobel Prize from the Nobel Prize Committee was overdue for a very long time.

Despite all those success at home and abroad and so many feathers in his hat was unable to change him, till his last day he always remained every member of BRACs Abed Bhai, ever omnipresent and always approachable hands on Abed Bhai.

It is here with a very heavy heart we are all mourning his demise and his passing will be felt deeply by many people. Born in very affluent and enlightened family of the village of Baniachong of Habigonj of Greater Sylhet. His village was once declared as the biggest village in Asia and the same village gave birth of this giant of tall man. Who have touched so many lives during his life with an admirable candour of care and affection. 83 years old polymath Sir Abed breathed his last on the 20th December 2019. He is survived by his wife,  son, daughter and  grandchildren.

Imran A. Chowdhury : A writer & historian