There are millions of Bangladeshis working in GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries as everywhere else. And although most of them fill the unskilled sector, there are among these expatriates a large number of semi-skilled and skilled workers.
Altogether they form a considerable work force filling the labour needs of the Gulf countries.
It is unfortunate that more often than not, some of these workers are in the news for the wrong reasons, creating suspicion and mistrust among their host countries. Falling collectively into the lowest paid group of imported help, many Bangladeshis have made their mark in the press.
This group of expatriates has often been unjustly maligned as a source of criminal activity, and this sort of generalisation is a gross injustice to the majority of the two million plus workers who left their South Asian country to earn a living here.
It is also regrettable that our media chooses to focus on the misdeeds of a few Bangladeshi nationals caught in a web of criminal activity, thereby collectively tarnishing a whole group of hard-working expatriates who are performing vital and much needed services across the Kingdom.
A Bangladeshi recently lashed out, “Those behind the concerted campaign accusing Bangladeshis of a variety of criminal activities can congratulate themselves: They have succeeded in spoiling the image of an entire people, among whom are doctors, engineers, teachers and professors, businessmen, consultants and executives as well as office assistants, cleaners, drivers, sweepers, guards, farmers, daily labourers and others -- just like any other expatriate group in the Kingdom.”
And while it is common to perceive this group of guest workers as menial labourers, one must be reminded of the fallacy of such perception. Indeed, Bangladesh is one of the poorer countries with a population of about 150 million and as is the case with any underdeveloped country, its people have to seek opportunities outside their boundaries. But that does not in any way diminish the character and honour of these guest workers.
Today, Bangladesh is a country on the move. A visit to the country will dispel most of our misconceptions that this land of 150 million people is fully inhabited by the poor or destitute looking for a handout and going nowhere.
There are specific plans and goals that are expected to turn this country into a middle developed country (MDC) by 2021. Education and health care have been prioritized by those in charge, and precedence has been given to developing the cadre of rapidly growing youth into a formidable citizenry.
To achieve those goals does not appear to be an illusion. The country does indeed boast of several advantages. Having very fertile land, Bangladeshis grow what they need and are totally self-reliant in food, a distinction very rare in most countries. Another factor is that the Bangladeshi national is far from lazy. In towns and villages one will notice the initiatives these people take to make a living. Given that energy, it is hard to expect them to fail in achieving their goals.
There are also those Bangladeshis who have won accolades beyond their borders, some with universal recognition. Mohammed Yunus, a Bangladeshi economist, won the Nobel Prize in 2006 for pioneering microcredit lending schemes for the poor, especially women, in his country. His micro-credit ideas are now in practice in more than 60 countries in the world, including the United States.
Fazlur Rahman Khan, a Bangladeshi structural engineer, designed Chicago's 100-story John Hancock Center and 110-story Sears Tower, the world's tallest building when it was built in 1973. In 1998, the city of Chicago named the intersection of Jackson and Franklin Streets (located at the foot of the Sears Tower) “Fazlur R Khan Way” in honour of the designer of the tower.
Irene Khan, a Bangladeshi lawyer, graduated from Harvard and in 2001 became the first woman to head Amnesty International's human rights movement, a post she held for more than eight years. Incidentally, she was the first Asian to achieve such status.
Bibi Russell is a Bangladeshi designer who has been putting Bangladeshi fashion on the map. Bibi employs some 35,000 weavers in her home country, and her company has expanded its services to include a number of products for the home -- all of them handmade in Bangladesh and popular all over the world.
They are among many other Bangladeshis who through their skills and hard work have contributed domestically and universally. And within the country, the economy is improving. Today, textile factories churning out brand names for multinationals dot the landscape and for good reason. Lower wages and good workmanship have induced many multinationals to set up shop in Bangladesh. From Japan to the Americas, they have all come to Bangladesh.
There is also the draw of political stability.
It is time we revise our views of Bangladesh. Having had a glimpse of this country, I can assure my readers that from what I have observed, there is dynamism among its people that will indeed make anything possible. Bangladesh is definitely on the move…and upwards.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org