History of Rotary in Bangladesh and Dhaka, the first club of Bangladesh

Part of our History of Rotary in Asia Section

See also History of District 3280

Such was the praise of an organization that had a humble beginning on February 23, 1905. But "even the world's mighty rivers have humble beginnings", he adds. "They start as tiny springs. As the rivulet trickles down, it brings new life to everything it touches. Soon other tiny streams join its path and together they unite as a river, ever more confident and forceful".

Rotary too started as a trickle by a lonely lawyer named Paul P Harris. On that chilly and windy wintry evening he and three of his friends decided to form a club where they could meet and deal with one another in friendship and trust. It was the stream that started a mighty river. Today more than 1.2 million Rotarians are committed to the ideal of service in about 33,000 clubs in more that 166 countries and geographical territories around the globe.

Rotary came to Asia in 1919 with the establishment of the Rotary club of Manila in the Philippines. Rotary Club of Calcutta was chartered during the following Rotary year. Thus the global organization was introduced to the subcontinent. Under the auspices of Calcutta Rotary club, elites of Dhaka organized themselves on December 22, 1937 to form the first Rotary club in Bangladesh. It secured its charter on February 26, 1938. It took fourteen years before the second club could be organized in Chittagong on September 26, 1952. The real take off of Rotary started after Bangladesh became a sovereign nation. Starting with only seven clubs in 1971, there are now 132 Rotary clubs in Bangladesh with a membership of almost 4,000 Rotarians.

Rotary's role is that of a Pathfinder. One can see passenger-sheds in most bus stands in every city and town. Rotary built the first one in front of the national press club, Dhaka, in the early fifties. Others then followed. Such pioneering stories were repeated in cases of 'manually operated shallow tube well for irrigation', tree plantation and similar other projects.

PolioPlus initiative has been Rotary's finest hour. It has given us a lot to be proud of, and as Rotarians, we have all played a big part in our successes. In Bangladesh, Rotarians gave millions of volunteer hours in immunizing the children on all NID's. The country received about taka 1250 million in the form of polio vaccines and other logistics support from The Rotary Foundation of RI. Thanks to the combined efforts of the government, WHO, UNICEF, CDC and Rotary, Bangladesh has been polio free since the year 2000. Dolly was the last detected case that year and our promise is to halt the number there.

Perhaps the most successful service projects that have lasting and beneficial impacts in the life and economy of Bangladesh were the Inland Fisheries and the Integrated Farming Projects undertaken by Rotary Club of Comilla. Under the leadership of Past District Governor late M Azizul Huq (former minister), the club launched the first project in 1984. With financial assistance of The Rotary foundation, 250 fish fry nurseries and 53 fish fry hatcheries were established in Brahmanbaria, Chandpur, Chittagong, Comilla, Feni, Noakhali and Habiganj districts. The second project again with financial assistance from The Rotary Foundation sought to add horticulture, silviculture, livestock and poultry as added components of the fish fry project. Today this model of integrated fishing and farming can be seen around the country, thanks to the Comilla initiative which served as the nucleus.

Beef fattening is a common practice in many parts of the country today. It was Rotary club of Mymensingh who pioneered this activity through a Rotary Foundation supported project. Training, demonstration, de-worming, treatment, nutrition and loan were organized and the results are now well visible and vibrant around the country. There are many similar ground breaking works initiated by Rotary that are having lasting impact in our society in the areas of literacy, arsenic mitigation, poverty alleviation and healthcare.

Rotary celebrated its 100th birthday on February 23, 2005. Any anniversary, be it for a birthday, a wedding, or the founding of an organization, is a time to reflect. We pause for a moment to reflect upon the past and plan for the future. It is heartening to note that as we celebrated our 100th birthday, we also accomplished a lot during the current Rotary year in Bangladesh.

Rtn Panna Lal Saha, President of Rotary club of Agrabad who is a plastic surgeon, vowed to complete 100 cleft lip surgeries before February 23, 2005 free of cost. He completed his mission on January last. Rotary club of Brahmanbaria Titas established the first Rotary Geriatric Treatment Center in Bangladesh on 16 th February, while Rotary club of Comilla added a maternity wing to their eye hospital on February 10th. Rotary Club of Gulshan, together with Rotary clubs of Banani, Dhaka Newcity and Uttara organized a rally in Gulshan Dhaka to motivate others to join Rotary. Rotary club of Dhaka North West also organized a huge rally on February 25, 2005.

Another innovative project has been completed by my home club, Rotary club of Metropolitan Dhaka. The club joined hands with Rotary club of Metropolitan Calcutta to produce a CD of Tagore songs sung by artistes of both Bangladesh and India. Sales proceeds of the CD in India went for the benefit of children in India. Income within Bangladesh is being donated today to HICARE, an organization dedicated to the welfare of the hearing impaired. The first installment of Tk 750,000 was handed over on February 23, 2005 through the hands of the President of Bangladesh. Having seen Rotary's work, Dutch-Bangla Bank Foundation came forward to donate Tk 1.5 million to HICARE.

With active encouragement of the district and financial assistance of AMCHAM, Rotary clubs of Dhaka Central and Metropolitan Dhaka have been working jointly to rehabilitate the flood displaced Jamdani Weavers. Under this scheme, 300 looms have been provided and three low cost houses, above flood level, are being built for three needy families there.

Many other Rotary clubs have undertaken centennial projects in Bangladesh, the cumulative effects of which will have positive impact on our society. The free Friday clinic run by Rotary club of Chandpur, the general hospital managed by Rotary club of Jessore, the orthopedic rehabilitation center run by Rotary club of Jalalabad, the primary schools for displaced children run by Jessore Central and Jessore East Rotary clubs, the pilot school run by Cox's Bazaar Rotary club and the Rotary college run by Rotary club of Dhaka North West are few such examples. Rotary club of Bogra Newtown organized a RYLA training camp for imparting leadership and team building skill to the youth.

"Rotary club members are ordinary people who accomplish extraordinary things sometimes through sheer force of will", remarked Rotary International's centennial President Glenn E Estess Sr. "Thanks to The Rotary Foundation of RI, Rotarians have provided more than $1.4 billion for service projects in more than 166 countries. Rotary supports the world's largest privately funded international scholarship program and sponsors one of the world's most popular youth exchange programs. We have been leaders in the global fight against polio, saving millions of children from this crippling disease. It is our birthday gift to the children of the world".

"Well done," Benjamin Franklin once remarked, "is better than well said". Therefore, Rotarians Celebrate Rotary in this centennial year by creating a better future for our society, because Rotarians are "Builders of Eternity". On this occasion of the 100th birthday of the world's first service and fellowship organization, Rotary International calls on all to put SERVICE ABOVE SELF.

A K M Shamsuddin
Governor 2004-05,
RI District 3280 Bangladesh