Rural Bangladesh, three decades ago. Brilliant green rice paddies stretching for miles, long winding roads lined with huge trees and bicycles lined up in front of offices. Khaled’s first posting was far, far away from any city, in green Kaliganj. His first task was to set up six tube wells. He dove in, figured it out and water soon flowed. He fondly remembers being deeply inspired by his colleagues, many of whom were female and most of whom held master’s degrees. They all rented out a house and lived together, in a warm, lively work environment which he will never forget.
Words and weapons, and some philosophical advice
One of his favourite memories was during the time that the area was under the influence of the Shorbohara Party. Fresh reports of violence would be reported daily.
One day, members of the party suddenly showed up at the office wanting bribes. They had words and then they had weapons. It was a dangerous situation, but with some quick thinking and philosophical words, Khaled befriended them. No one was bribed, and they all went to the cinema afterwards.
Two years later, Khaled was promoted and moved to Magura. There were no cellphones or internet. The programme organiser from the regional office came bearing the news. He was to become an area manager. Within a few days of working in Magura he was shifted again, to Manikganj, where he would be the regional programme organiser.
A surprise visit
Khaled lived in Manikganj with one of his colleagues. He had no other furniture, or belongings, apart from his blanket. He just never got around to buying anything.
One day his colleagues found out that his wife was coming to visit him. They were immediately worried. There was nothing to sit or sleep on.
They rushed out, bought chairs, a table and a bed, brought them home, and set them all up before his wife arrived. Khaled was just as shocked as his family was. Another memory that never fails to put a smile on his face.
An emergency call
Khaled was posted to Comilla a year later. Before he could settle in though, a deadly cyclone swept the coast, and Khaled was deployed to Cox’s Bazar as the regional coordinator for emergency relief work. It has hard work, and his first taste of an immediate response project – and the most rewarding posting he had completed so far.
In October 2002, another adventure came his way, one that would take him beyond the country’s horizon.
The land of Kabuliwala
“Do you have a passport? If not, get your paperwork ready immediately!”
Khaled was in Chittagong when he received a call from Amin bhai, BRAC’s operations director in Afghanistan. His next post would be there, in the first country where BRAC’s programmes would expand to outside Bangladesh. He was given the position of the first regional manager.
He found an empty space, supervised construction and set up an office. He began microfinance activities, travelling from village to village and figuring out what local communities needed.
As the operation expanded, they quickly needed to hire local staff. His first real challenge was to find locals, especially women, who could speak English in the office. This was no easy task. Afghanistan was recovering from a war.
There were no newspapers to advertise for positions, or any other channels to communicate the message. Khaled would often come across English coaching centre signboards during his evening walks around the city. One day, he decided to pay one of the centres a visit.
He entered a building, and found a classroom with students, and much to his surprise – they were women learning English! Khaled politely asked them if they were looking for a job, and immediately hands shot up. Another challenge resolved.
From starting programmes in the mountains of the Samangan Province to learning how to ride a horse better than some of his local colleagues, every day of Khaled’s four years in Afghanistan was different.
Adventures in Africa and beyond
Khaled returned home from Afghanistan in 2006, only to board a plane a year later.
BRAC was just beginning its work in Liberia, and Khaled joined as the financial analyst. He became the assistant manager after two years, and stayed in Liberia till 2013, then was tranferred to Sierra Leone.
He laughs when asked about memories from Africa. “Way, way too many to tell. How much time have you got?”
After 10 months he finally came home.
Khaled was appointed as team leader of automation for microfinance. A new era had dawned, and this time he was leading the way for digital technology. He was soon to take on something new though.
One of the most horrific humanitarian crises of recent times
Over half a million people fled from the Rakhine State of Myanmar to Cox’s Bazar in 2017 in search of safety.
Khaled took leave from his role and accepted the post as the head of operations for the response. He is now providing life-saving emergency humanitarian assistance to thousands of people every day.
Khaled, and countless people like him, follow a simple mantra as they journey from one land to another – create a beautiful world, guided by a love for humanity.
One day, he received a call from a former colleague in Afghanistan – one that filled his heart with warmth and pride.
“I have a son now!” he exclaimed, “I have named him after you.”