About 75 years ago, an engineer, after his graduation, joined government service and undertook the immense responsibility of building the only hanging bridge in Bangladesh. Right from that time, whenever his school going son was asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, he would answer unequivocally, “An engineer.” Years since then, the country knows him as Dr. Jamilur Reza Chowdhury.
Though I was born in Sylhet, I grew up in Dhaka for educational purposes. After graduating from college I got admitted in BUET and joined there as a teacher in 1960. In 1964, I went to England for higher education with a scholarship from the oil company Burma Shell.
After completing my PhD in November of 1968 I had to take an important decision regarding my career. Ignoring the attractive offers in America and Australia I decided to come back to Bangladesh and rejoin BUET as Lecturer. I had always felt that if I ever had anything to offer, I would give it to my motherland. In discussions about specialists moving overseas we often say that professional satisfaction lacks in Bangladesh. But I don’t think anyone abroad would have gotten the opportunity to work in the kind of interesting and significant projects that I got in Bangladesh.
Apart from teaching, I have got the opportunity to be involved with various government and non-government projects at home and abroad sometimes as a consultant, sometimes chairman and sometimes observer. I was the chairman of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon for 3 consecutive years. After the cyclone and tidal wave of 12th November 1972, which is said to be the biggest natural disaster of the 20th century, I had the chance to work in the affected areas with my colleagues and students. I traveled to Teknaf, to various south western districts and upazillas such as Shyamnagar and Satkhira as well as several islands and char areas such as Hatia, Sandwip, and Monpura for establishing cyclone shelters.
We were the first to take initiative to collect data for assessing earthquake risk in various parts of the country. My PhD research was on designing skyscrapers. After I came back to Bangladesh, I had the opportunity to initiate the use of computer technology for designing tall buildings. As a result, today there is more variation and ease in the designing sector.
If everyone carries out his own responsibility properly we will see a wave of development at the individual level. This is why Quantum’s work is significant. Through a diverse range of self development programs, Quantum is strengthening people's confidence and helping them break free of their cycles of distress.
Foreign aid and indecisiveness are the two main barriers to our national development. We can’t take quick and correct decisions. Then there is this mental handicap of depending on foreign aid for everything. But if we were ready to self finance our projects, we could do wonderful work with just the local experts.
Let me share a personal experience regarding this issue – the Power Development Board was looking for a Bangladeshi expert to reexamine a project design for setting up transmission towers between Aricha and Nagarbari. The foreign designers asked PDB with much negligence, “Does your country have anyone skilled enough to examine a design like this?” When we heard this we took the matter as a challenge. After the reexamination, we found several faults in the design, especially in the foundation of the tower.
After the cyclone of 29th April 1991, the government requested UNDP to design the master plan for cyclone shelters. UNDP agreed to the proposal, allocated $2 million for it, and arranged to send foreign experts. After much debate, Bangladesh Government was able to make UNDP understand that there is enough expertise within the country to carry out this project. Unbelievably, the team of experts from BUET and BIDS created the master plan with just 1/4th of the budget. This plan was highly appreciated not only in the country but also abroad.
A remarkable episode in my life as an engineer is the Jamuna Bridge. From design to site selection to the amount of financial transactions involved – it was one of the most challenging bridge projects in the world. I feel very lucky to have had long term involvement with this project, from preparing the primary and final designs and supervising the construction work to resolving the dispute regarding the demand for extra money by the contractors which went on till 2/3 years after the bridge was completed.
I never consider myself successful. But I am satisfied and grateful for what I have achieved so far. I have always tried to work with utmost sincerity. I have always been conscious of my responsibilities.
We have started the Math Olympiad with the goal of popularizing mathematics. We are inspiring our students to work with the vision that Bangladesh will win the Phills Medal, the highest award in Math, by 2020. We have also set the target of winning a Nobel prize in science by 2030 for our students.
I envision a self-assured young generation who will lead the world in every branch of knowledge, not just in math and science; a generation that will represent a prosperous Bangladesh to the world. Let us all work together to implant this dream of a great and prosperous homeland in every young heart.