Centenarian British-Bangladeshi OBE Dabirul wants to inspire millions

Centenarian Dabirul Islam Choudhury donated £115,971 to UK’s National Health Services (NHS)Collected

Centenarian Dabirul Islam Choudhury was already a household name among the Bangladeshi community in the UK since mid-May for his extraordinary fund-rising efforts by walking his garden. And now his recent accolade of being made an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in the Queen’s birthday honours list, has spread his fame beyond the ambit of the community.

Though this year's birthday honours were scheduled to be announced in June, the announcement was made on 10 October due to the coronavirus pandemic.

With 1,495 people honoured in total, including at least 7 British-Bangladeshis, this year’s list is particularly extensive as authorities offered special recognition to coronavirus heroes.

Among the large number of honours recipients, Dabirul hogged the headlines, thanks to the extraordinary efforts given his age.

Dabirul Islam Choudhury raised more than £420,000 by walking 970 laps of his garden in East London during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Of the total funds raised, £115,971 was donated to UK’s National Health Services (NHS) while the remaining amount was divided between 30 charities in 52 countries as part of the Ramadan Family Commitment (RFC) COVID-19 crisis initiative, run by British-Bangladeshi television broadcaster Channel S.

Dabirul recently talked at length about his journey towards this feat in a telephone conversation with Prothom Alo.

“Certainly the news of winning the award made me immensely happy, but I never thought of it while I started the initiative,” 100-year-old Dabirul said.

Dabirul’s son Atique Chowdhury, who is a well-known restaurateur and chairman of weekly Janomot, said that they were worried about his father after the COVID-19 started to wreak havoc in the UK.

“We knew it would be very tough for us to confine him in a room and make him maintain social distancing rules since he is a very busy person visiting different places. He would go to places to see ailing persons frequently. So we wanted him to remain busy with something, and that’s how the idea of walking the garden came,” Atique said.

Dabirul Islam Choudhury walking his garden

Dabirul said that the fund raising effort of the World War II veteran Sir Tom Moore inspired him and he started thinking of emulating him.

Dabirul started walking the 80 meter wide garden near his house in the Bow area of East London.

His grandchild put his effort in an online fundraising website justgiving.com urging people to donate which would ultimately go to charities.

“To be very honest we had an idea of raising a few hundred pounds and set a fundraising target of only 1,000. Surprisingly the target was achieved within just six hours,” Atique told Prothom Alo.

Later, Channel S contacted Dabirul and offered him to take part in their initiative which he readily agreed.

British politicians and media alike lauded the effort which ultimately brought him the OBE award.

“Dabirul Chacha’s (uncle) effort has brightened the image of British-Bangladeshi community. The community is exuberant at his effort. His contribution embodied the efforts made by Bangladeshi community during the COVID-19 crisis,” Farhan Khan, head of programmes of Channel S told Prothom Alo.

He said the effort inspires thousands of British Bangladeshis living in the UK.

As a literature aficionado, Dabirul moved to England in 1957 to study literature at Kings College. He is well known as a poet in British-Bangladeshi community. Dabirul published two poetry books and got different literary awards.

During the conversation, he recited a poem written by him on different districts of Bangladesh and another poem by William Cowper.

He was from Kulonj village in Derai upazila of Sunamganj.

Bangladeshis formed an Action Committee for the liberation war. I was in-charge of fundraising efforts in seven areas of the UK
Dabirul Islam Choudhury

Although he left Bangladesh over six decades ago, Dabirul has a very strong connection with the country. He established several schools in different upazilas of Sunamganj.

Dabirul Islam Choudhury with his son

Dabirul’s fundraising effort is nothing new. He recalled the extraordinary efforts British-Bangladeshis made during the Liberation War.

“We campaigned vehemently and raised funds for the cause of the liberation war. Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury was leading the efforts made in the UK. Bangladeshis formed an Action Committee for the liberation war. I was in-charge of fundraising efforts in seven areas of the UK.”

Dabirul in one breath uttered the name of seven places where he raised funds.

“Many of this generation do not know that saga. British-Bangladeshis gave away everything they could for the liberation war. People, who were mainly working class, gave us the full salary they earned by backbreaking menial work for the whole week,” Dabirul said.

Saying that the first generation of Bangladeshi expatriates in the UK struggled a lot to carve a niche in the UK, Dabirul urged the young generation to be more active socially and physically and bear the legacy of their forbearers.

He wants the young generation of British-Bangladeshis to work more towards brightening the image of the community in the UK.

Dabirul instilled those values to his son too, who, like many other British-Bangladeshi restaurateurs, distributed four thousand meals to the frontline workers during the pandemic.

Dabirul’s only wish is that his achievement would inspire millions of Bangladeshis living around the world to engage in humanitarian activities that brighten the image of Bangladesh.