It was the week before the Filipinos’ observance of the Holy Week when the Honorary Consul of Bangladesh in Mindanao, madame Purita Arsenia “Joji” Ilagan-Bian posted this message on Facebook, “The Bangladesh Embassy in the Philippines and the General Consulate in Mindanao are proud to announce that two respected members of the media, Archt. Michaelangelo Ebro Dakudao and Jinggoy I. Salvador, have been invited by the Bangladesh Government along with the international media personalities from all over the world for its ‘Visit Bangladesh Programme 2019.’ We are so proud of you especially since you are from Davao and Mindanao. Thank you, His Excellency Ambassador Asad Alam Siam for this wonderful opportunity.”
Bangladesh, which means “The Country of Bengal,” is a sovereign nation located in South Asia. It shares land borders with India and Myanmar (Burma). The People’s Republic of Bangladesh is the world’s eighth most populous country, as well as its most densely populated. Dhaka, where the event was held from April 13-18, is the capital city and the largest city. It also played an important role in anti-colonial movements. Bengalis, who speak the official Bangali language, comprise 98% of the population. The Bengali Muslims make Bangladesh as the world’s third largest Muslim country. Islam is the official religion of Bangladesh. Like any developing country, Bangladesh faces challenges in areas of poverty, education, health care and corruption.
Upon our arrival at the luxurious Pan Pacific Sonargaon in the midst of the hustle and bustle of downtown Dhaka at around 2:30 in the early morning, I slept for a few hours and then headed straight to the Holy Rosary Church to pray. One of the oldest Roman Catholic Churches of Dhaka, the Holy Rosary Church was built by Portuguese Augustinian missionaries, who introduced Christianity in Dhaka in the 17th century. The official meeting of the 48 delegates from 26 countries with the host officers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh was held at the reception room of the hotel by 8 p.m. It was really difficult remembering all the names of the delegates.
Our first official activity the following day was attending the celebration of Pahela Baishakh, the first day of the Bengali New Year held last April 14, along with the people of Bangladesh from all walks of life at the Suhrawardi Park of Dhaka University. It was a joyous occasion and a very colorful one on a very hot day. The ladies wore their best traditional Bengali dresses and saris in predominant colors of red and white; and adorned themselves with bracelets, necklaces and flowers on their hair. The men wore just as colorful panjabi or kurta and pyjamas or lungi. The Fine Arts Department of Dhaka University carried out the Mangal Shobhajatra, a very festive procession featuring giant masks. This Bangladesh traditional procession on Pahela Baishakh earned the recognition of the UNESCO as Bangladesh’s “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.”
In her official message to Bangladeshis, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed, the longest serving prime minister in the history of Bangladesh and the daughter of the first ever President of Bangladesh, told her people, “We will continue our journey of progress. Bengalis will walk with their heads held high on the world stage. Bangladesh will rise as a developed and prosperous nation.”
On the same day, the delegates were also brought to the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman memorial Museum, the former residence of the “Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman” built in 1961 where the President, along with his wife Begum Fazilatumessa; his three sons Sheih Kamal, Sheikh Jamal and Sheikh Russel; his daughters-in-law, among others, were assassinated in a coup d’etat on August 15, 1975. His daughters were in West Germany at the time of the assassination and took refuge in India after. The house turned museum has over the years “become an embodiment of the greatness of the Bengalee nation…The house has become an enduring symbol of love and and admiration people feel for Bangabandhu, and a place where they can renew their commitment to the nation.” Indeed, the house museum had plenty of visitors of all ages that Bangladesh New Year.
We also visited the Liberation War Museum which has graphic displays that reveal the horrors of the 1971 War of Independence. The architecture done in the modern Brutalism style was designed by Bangladesh architects Tanzim Hasam Salim and Naheed Farzana. Quite impressive, the Museum was officially opened on April 16, 2017.
We also had a meeting with Bangladesh’s bright Information Minister Dr. Hasan Mahmud who urged the foreign delegates to write the good and beautiful about Bangladesh to the world: “I request all of you to project a positive image of Bangladesh. Tremendous developments took place in every sector of the country during the last 10 years.” Dr. Hasan mentioned that three years ago, Bangladesh graduated to a developing country status from the least developed country recognized by the United Nations. He also cited how Bangladesh, a once food deficient country, has become a food exporting country. Take note that Bangladesh has emerged as one of the top five countries of the world in GDP growth.
A Bangladesh reporter named Munir Quddus observed, “Bangladesh has done exceptionally well over the past two decades. This is true for both economic and social progress. The secret behind the success of Bangladesh is the Bangladeshi people. There is much to celebrate about this nation of 165 million people where almost half of the population is under the age of 24.” Experiencing Bangladesh for a week, indeed, will make you believe in the potential and promise of this young nation.
As this was my first trip to South Asia, Bangladesh will definitely remain unforgotten like all “firsts” in our lives. My gratitude to H.E. Bangladesh Ambassador Asad Alam Siam and ConGen Joji Ilagan-Bian for this wonderful experience. Thank you, A.N.M. Ashiq Billah, Biswajit Debnath, Nashir Uddin of the MoFA for the hospitality.