March 26 is Independence Day in Bangladesh, each year the thousands of Martyrs are remembered and people reflect on their own or family’s experience of the liberation war – everyone I know in Bangladesh has a story to tell.
This year the Independence Day celebration was particularly special for Oxfam in Bangladesh – we are one of 5 organisations and 120 individuals recognised by the state of Bangladesh for our contribution to the liberation war of 1971.
The war of 1971 is long forgotten by most of the world – but it marked the birth of the nation of Bangladesh – a small populous nation which continues to struggle with the many challenges of development but if full of people who are proud to call themselves a Bangladeshi.
I lived in Bangladesh for almost 6 years, I cut my development teeth on the wide variety of development solutions being practiced here and learnt to love the country where language, art, songs and singers are valued as much as doctors and engineers.
And those foreigners who were recognised as honourees of the liberation war were from many countries and from many walks of life – the first journalists who saw the plight of people in the refugee camps, MPs and Senators who raised the issue in the UK and US, world leaders who supported the emerging nation on the world stage, diplomats and army leaders who attended the signing of the surrender, but also those who organised the concert which raised more than 2 million dollars decades before live aid and who wrote the liberation songs which motivated the nation.
And of course Oxfam, for doing what we do best, providing those in need with the basics to keep them alive and then start to rebuild their lives. Julian Francis, who ran the operation and continues to live and work in Bangladesh, was individually honoured for his and his team’s tireless work and Oxfam as an organisation was recognised. Given my connection to the Desh, I was very honoured that I could collect the award on behalf of the team.
As we all sat on the podium surrounded by dignitaries and VIPs, a short video was shown about the war including clips of many of the honourees, but also the devastation and cruelty – many of us had tears in our eyes as we watched.
The citations followed outlining the many contributions of the honourees. The president, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister presented the awards and certificates. Later in the day the Prime Minster invited us to a reception where she was very generous with her time – speaking to each one of us – she obviously has very personal memories of that time.
Back at the Oxfam office in Dhaka we celebrated with cake – the team were very proud of Oxfam being recognised but are proud to work for an organisation which over the last 40 years has contributed in so many ways to the lives of poor people in Bangladesh
I too am very proud of the team and the award – it continues to be an honour and privilege to work for Oxfam.
The honourees, Julian Francis, Sarah Ireland with Prime Minister