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Lest we forget Prof M.A. Momen

A student’s tribute to a teacher par excellence
Md. Shafiul Alam
Lest we forget Prof M.A. Momen

The Institute of Social Welfare and Research (ISWR) of the University of Dhaka has recently been ranked 66th among the top think tanks in South and Southeast Asia & the Pacific, according to the report of 2019 Global Go To Think Tank Index. This ranking of the University of Pennsylvania was assessed on the basis, inter alia, of the impacts of research outputs of an organisation on public policy and their contributions to the policymaking environment.

The person who helped create this occasion to make all the faculties and students alike to be proud of this top-notch achievement of their alma mater is its founding Director Professor Md Abdul Momen. Today (10 May) is the fourth death anniversary of Professor Momen, a pioneer of Social Work education in Bangladesh. In this ephemeral world, people are born, play their part and pass away. Some, however, leave behind their indelible imprints and are remembered for their works and contributions.

Professor Momen was one such gifted personality to be recalled enduringly for the ideas and visions he espoused, the values and principles he set, and the works he did. His role in initiating Social Work education, institutionalising the discipline, conducting quality researches, and creating an effective alumni platform would remain ever memorable.

Professor Momen (02 February 1933 -10 May 2016)
Professor Momen did his Master’s in Social Work from Columbia University in the early 1960s. He was perhaps the first person in the whole of erstwhile East Bengal in achieving that degree from the prestigious Columbia School of Social Work. He had got every reason not to return to Dacca having finished his study from an Ivy League University, however, he did come back. On return from the USA, he started a challenging project to make his beloved institution (College of Social Welfare and Research, later ISWR) a research laboratory for studying, analysing and catering to policy guidelines on cutting-edge issues. Till date, the institute has consummately contributed to formulating several policies, piloting many national-level projects, and setting up of major NGO initiatives in Bangladesh. Those helped make people aware, accumulate social capital, empower the disadvantaged, and bring forth visible progress in the livelihoods of targeted people. The recent recognition of the ISWR as a top research institute was long overdue of his laudable endeavours in creating a launchpad for research and analysis.   

Professor Momen dedicated more than fifty years of his life for institutionalising a new field of study i.e. Social Work, in Bangladesh. In the profession, he was known for his unique style of teaching - full of life and knowledge. His distinct technique of deliberations had a natural demonstration of his thoughts and spirits to bring out the best of his students. Professor Momen had a remarkable ability to articulate complex issues in a simple and understandable manner. An aura of zeal and enthusiasm was diffused through the students while they were having his classes. That was a manifestation of Professor Momen's magical influence on his pupils. To introduce professional applications of the discipline to the students, Professor Momen mapped out an idea of making fieldwork placement as a mandatory requirement for any student to fulfil a Social Work degree. That was, to him, a gateway for the young students to the practical world. He used to physically visit the fieldwork places, talk to the Chief Executives of those institutions, attach the students with the grassroots, and finally debrief them to benefit from those firsthand learning and experiences. With his untiring efforts and continuing motivation, he groomed-up a large pool of keen students equipped with a standard of excellence. At any given time, therefore, a multitude of his students are found to hold the highest echelons of national life. To most of them, Professor Momen remains either a mentor or a guardian. 

In his personal life, Professor Momen was a kind-hearted gentleman. He left behind a host of friends and well-wishers revealing his charms and qualities of head and heart. His friendly attitude towards all had earned him a reputation to be an amiable person. His generosity and forthcomingness towards the students and people around were well-known. He was deeply intrigued with joys and sorrows of his students and colleagues. His open-handedness in supporting social causes at times put him in financial crisis. Professor Momen was a successful organiser. He founded the Social Welfare Alumni Association, which has carried out his efforts for creating a bridge between seniors and juniors for ensuring the welfare of all concerned. He used that extensive network for doing many charitable works and those are continued translating his vision into reality. Many pioneering projects were taken under his self-supportive initiatives to help students stand on their own.  

He had an esteemed family background. It will be remiss of me if I do not mention a glorious fact. Many a time I read Shaheed Janani Jahanara Imam’s Ekattorer Dingulee, a masterpiece vividly narrated the sacrifices and braveries of the best souls of the soil. In that memoir (p.162), I found a name- Dr M A Mobin, who made an unmatched for sacrifice in our great Liberation War. He was then doing FRCS in the UK. First, he (with some others) set fire to his passport at the London’s Hyde Park to protest the atrocities committed back home by the occupation forces. Secondly, he flew off to Bangladesh with a bare piece of paper (i.e. travel permit) as a ‘stateless person’ to join the Liberation War initially as a guerilla fighter. Later, he with some fellow physicians established ‘Bangladesh Field Hospital’ in Agartala to treat wounded Muktijuddhas (Freedom Fighters) and refugees. I had the opportunity to meet and learn about the selfless sacrifices of this extraordinary freedom fighter, who happened to be the younger brother of Professor Momen. In his extended family, there are some more luminaries imbued with utmost dedication for the nation, glittering in their respective fields.

Professor Momen was a champion change agent and, coming in touch with him, the students themselves were also turned into change agents. In the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, we are now passing through a trying time in living memory having unprecedented implications on economies, societies, values, norms, institutions, political structures and governance mechanisms. While the entire world looks forward to getting rid of this menace, more so for Bangladesh being a vulnerable country of a huge population yet of scanty resources, we need more of change agents now than ever to withstand at this difficult time.  

Professor Momen is no longer with us. Yet, he dwells in our hearts as a glowing light of truth, virtue and strength. In his death, we have lost a treasure in the field. A pall of gloom and pain casts over us on this day as we miss him dearly. We solemnly pray to the Almighty for his salvation. May his rank in Heaven be exalted, Ameen.

(Md Shafiul Alam is a student of Professor Md Abdul Momen and a public servant. Email: shafiuldds@gmail.com)

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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