Mawlana Hazar Imam and Prince Amyn were warmly welcomed upon their arrival at the VIP Terminal of Dhaka's Zia International Airport in the early afternoon of May 3, 1993 at the start of a four-day visit to Bangladesh.
Hazar Imam and Prince Amyn, who visited the country at the invitation of the Prime Minister and the Government, were greeted by Bangladesh's Foreign Minister, A.S.M. Mostafizur Rahman, various government dignitaries and the jamati leadership in Bangladesh.
Riding in a ceremonial motorcade, the distinguished guests first made a courtesy call on the Prime Minister, Begum Khaleda Zia and then left for a "Karatoa," and the State Guest House.
The second day of activities commenced on May 4 with a short helicopter trip to the national martyrs memorial, Jatiyo Shaheed Smriti Shoudh, at Savar. Here Mawlana Hazar Imam laid a wreath before signing the Visitor's Book and planting a sapling in the memorial garden.
The primary purpose of this visit to Bangladesh was accomplished later the same day when Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia and Mawlana Hazar Imam signed an Accord of Co-operation for Development between the Government of Bangladesh and the Aga Khan Development Network.
The Accord recognizes the Aga Khan Development Network's long contribution to development in Bangladesh. It also embodies the Government's agreement to facilitate future optimum utilisation of human and financial resources to accelerate socio-economic and cultural development in Bangladesh. The signing ceremony was held in the Cabinet Room of the International Conference Centre, which is part of the beautifully designed complex at the Prime Minister's Office.
Following the signing of the Accord, Bangladesh's Foreign Minister, A.S.M. Mostafizur Rahman and prince Amyn signed a Protocol of Co-operation for Development. The Protocol provides certain enabling operational conditions for the non-profit institutions of the Network similar to those normally granted to credible and effective international non-profit institutions contributing to development in Bangladesh.
The signing of the Accord and the Protocol in Bangladesh followed the signing of similar agreements and the granting of enabling conditions over the past two years in various other countries in which the Network is active. These include India, Kenya, Pakistan, Tanzania and Uganda. Agreements consolidating the partnership of their respective development agencies have also been signed between the Network or its institutions, and agencies of the Government of Canada, the U.K. the U.S.A.., and the European Community.
In the afternoon, Hazar Imam and Prince Amyn held discussions with Foreign Minister A.S.M. Mostfizur Rahman, Education Minister Jamiruddin Sircar and Industries Minister Shamsul Islam Khan, all of whom called on them at the State Guest House. Later that afternoon, Mawlana Hazar Imam and Prince Amyn visited President Abdur Rahman Biswas at his official residence, "Bhangababhan."
In the evening, Hazar Imam attended a dinner hosted in his honour by Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia at Dhaka's Sheraton Hotel. In a speech to the distinguished guests, Mawlana Hazar Imam hailed Bangladesh's leadership role in addressing critical healthcare issues, it s pioneering initiatives in rural entrepreneurship and its creativity in pursuing the country's critical education needs.
Noting that the transfer of technology was a "Two-way street," Hazar Imam cited some examples. Recalling the revoluntionary medical breakthrough of oral rehydration therapy in the treatment of diarrhoeal diseases, first developed in Bangladesh, Hazar Imam noted that the Aga Khan Foundation was transferring this technology from Bangladesh, through a variant of the technique, to Pakistan and Kenya. He also spoke of the successful export of the Grameen Bank concept, which was the result of Bangladesh's enlightened economic policies. Regarding the transfer of technology into Bangladesh, Hazar Imam mentioned the introduction of leather tanning technology through an investment of the Aga Khan Development Network. This modern tanning technology was first successfully applied by the Network in East Africa.
Mawlana Hazar Imam then announced the incorporation of the Aga Khan Health Services and the Aga Khan Education Services in Bangladesh. He said that these two institutions formed an integral part of an international network with proven experience and strong bases in the neighbouring countries of India and Pakistan. Mawlana Hazar Imam thanked the Network's partners for their support in Bangladesh and said that he looked forward with deep hope to fuller collaboration between the Network's energies, ideas, means and human resources and those of the Government.
In her welcome address, the Prime Minister paid warm tribute to Mawlana Hazar Imam, the Ismaili community and the Network. She expressed her admiration for the commitment to excellence of all the Network's institutions and their emphasis on community participation, volunteer involvement, and eventual self sufficiency. Begum Khaleda Zia also spoke of her hope that future co-operation between the Network and the Government of Bangladesh increases in both depth and dimension. She reiterated the beneficial work of social development organisations and assured the gathering that the Government of Bangladesh would provide them with conditions that will enable them to be even more effective in the future.
On May 5, Mawlana Hazar Imam was shown projects of the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) at Boulia village and at the Ayesha Abed Foundation by Mr. Fazle Abed, Executive Director of BRAC. The Aga Khan Foundation is a member of the consortium of international donor agencies funding BRAC and is also an implementing agency for funding to BRAC from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). The visit to the village was punctuated by stops at which Hazar Imam discussed the nature of various income-generating projects with project managers as well as with villagers who are the prime beneficiaries of these projects. Mawlana Hazar Imam observed a non-formal primary education class and viewed some of the cottage industries such as poultry-rearing, silkworm-rearing, embroidery and the dyeing and printing of textiles. He also paused to discuss aspects of animal husbandry and witnessed a village credit organization's group meeting in session.
After leaving Boulia, Mawlana Hazar Imam went to Dairgram where he was met by Professor Mohammed Yunus, Managing Director of Grameen Bank. Under sweltering temperatures, Hazar Imam walked through the villages visiting several of the houses built through the Grameen Bank's Low Cost Housing Program. The Program enables the rural poor to borrow funds without collateral, and to build newer, modest but healthier houses which are flood and water resistant. Most of the borrowers are women. The Program's success has been marked by a real rise in the borrowers' incomes and in their reliability in repaying loans. In addition to discussing the credit concept applied in the scheme, Mawlana Hazar Imam was able to talk with villagers about the introduction of ancillary improvements such as water p pumps and upgraded facilities.
The Grameen Bank Housing Program was a winner of the 1989 Aga Khan Award for Architecture. In its citation, the Master Jury noted how "the compassion of Islam, the resilience of Bangladesh rural Muslims and the dedication of the personnel of the Grameen Bank converge in a creative and skilful way to improve the lives of millions of people."
In the afternoon, Mawlana Hazar Imam had a mulaquat with the Dhaka jamat. Later that evening, Hazar Imam hosted a dinner in honour of Begum Khaleda Zia, which was attended by various government dignitaries, prominent leaders of industry, and representatives of the diplomatic corps and non-governmental organizations.
Prior to his departure from Bangladesh on May 6, Mawlana Hazar Imam conducted a brief tour of the Aga Khan School, Dhaka. The tour covered the school's science laboratories, which are fully equipped to prepare students for Advanced Level practical examinations. The school is the only one in the country with a laser in its physics laboratory. The school also has a strong and sustainable staff development program to move from a teacher-centred approach to a learner-centred approach. Mawlana Hazar Imam also viewed the school's excellent computer facilities. These facilities permit the school to offer every student an opportunity to be computer literate by the end of his or her secondary school studies.
Speaking to teachers at the school, Hazar Imam expressed his enthusiasm at the exciting possibilities that lay ahead for the school. He encouraged the teachers to aim beyond the achievement of superior results for their students and to look at the wider dimension of education.
During this visit, the jamat in Bangladesh learnt more about how the Imamat institutions currently operate in partnership with governments and non-governmental organizations internationally. As Mawlana Hazar Imam stated prior to his departure, the Accord and Protocol had set the context for increased collaboration between the Government and the Network over a wider spectrum of projects and in a more organized manner.
The jamat was also able to appreciate the impact of the strengthening of Imamat institutions in various countries on the jamat's future in those countries. Viewing these institutional developments against the evolution of the jamat in the post-Cold War era, the jamat was able to see how the developing world might offer enhanced opportunities for economic growth in the future.
The jamat was also able to understand how such opportunities might yield progress if exploited within sound ethical parameters, through entrepreneurial diversification, and through co-operative ventures among the economically disadvantaged.
(Source: Ismaili Canada July 1993)
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