Julian Francis adds another feather to his cap -The Asian Age

In 2012, upon receiving the 'Friends of Liberation War Honour' award, Julian Francis was so overwhelmed that he wrote that award 'was a great honour as I do not know of any other country which has said 'thank you' in such a big way'.

2018 was a year that was both challenging but also very rewarding in that he was showered with some unexpected gifts. Challenges with his health prevented him from completing a number of assignments related to issues close to his heart, but he remains grateful for the successful treatment meted out to him by a number of hospitals in Dhaka.

As Julian Francis celebrated half a century of development and relief work in South Asia, 27 years in Bangladesh and 15 years in India, in July 2018, he was honoured with full citizenship of Bangladesh. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina personally handed over the citizenship certificate to Julian Francis at a ceremony in her official residence Ganobhaban.

Present on that occasion, amongst others were British Labour MP Rushanara Ali and British High Commissioner in Bangladesh Alison Blake. Julian is the 7th foreigner to be so honoured, and four of them, all from the UK, are still alive and live in Bangladesh.

And at the end of 2018, Julian Francis found his name in the Queen's New Year Honours List, as he was named as a recipient of Order of the British Empire (OBE) in recognition 'for his outstanding contribution to Bangladesh since its independence'.

Julian's connection to Bangladesh goes back to the Liberation War in 1971, when he was involved with the supplementary care of about 6 lac Bangladeshis in refugee camps in India-Tripura, Assam, Meghalaya, Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri/Siliguri, West Dinajpur, Raiganj, Bongaon and Barasat.  Julian says that after that his life has been enriched by the remarkable people I have worked with in Bangladesh when he was based there between 1985 and 1992 and then from 1998 till date.

After learning that he was being made an OBE, Julian in his initial reaction said," The person I am and have become is the result of the interactions and influences of very many people, not only in Bangladesh, and so by accepting these honours, I share them with all those who have worked with me and inter-acted with me over the years in work related to extreme poverty alleviation and I say a very big Thank You so much to you all".

 When I called Julian to congratulate him on receiving this honour,with great humility and modesty, he said, "I was just at the right place at the right time which has changed the course of my life and I feel so lucky about it".

Julian Francis, (he is Julian Bhai to many), has made Bangladesh his home ever since the 1980s when he first came to work for a Canadian organisation CUSO as an expert. Although, he left after a few years, he knew his work was in Bangladesh. He came back in 1998 and has lived in Bangladesh ever since.

Julian initially worked for International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. For about six years, he was Co-Director and Team Leader of national poverty alleviation programme of Bangladesh Government, called 'Adarsha Gram'. From 2006 to 2012, Julian played a very important role in another such programme of Bangladesh Government, 'Chars Livelihoods Programme'. This project was financially assisted by DFID's UK Aid and AusAid.

But his love for Bangladesh goes back to 1971 during our Liberation War when he got involved with the relief operations of UK-based charity-organisation Oxfam as the co-ordinator of their operations in the refugee camps scattered around West Bengal and other Indian states bordering Bangladesh.

Julian was in Bihar working on a project of Oxfam as a volunteer. He was specialised in agriculture and helped in setting up wells, a Harijan children's school and advised the community on crops and animal husbandry.It was at that time, when he was on extension on his contract, that the Liberation War started. He was living in Gaya when he listened to parts of Bangabandhu's speech of 7th March that was broadcast by BBC.

Oxfam set up its headquarters for the huge relief operations in Kolkata and Julian moved over as the co-ordinator and set up his team there. It was at that time that I came to know this young Englishman who worked so tirelessly day and night in this gigantic task of refugee relief operations.I became a member of Oxfam's relief operations, and being a refugee myself, this assignment was a big challenge to me and I found it quite rewarding mentally. Julian was always there as a motivator and an inspiration.

As for Julian, his love for charity and development work came from his family. His father, William Francis was Secretary, Science Research Council and retired in 1970. He was awarded CBE by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. And now, the son is awarded an OBE - a remarkable achievement.

His mother, Ursula, admits Julian, was a great influence on him. Julian was brought up in post-World War II England and he saw his mother working to raise money for Oxfam's aid efforts. Julian and his friends would wash neighbours' cars and the money they collected was sent to charity.

Julian has over the years been able to grasp an understanding of Bangladeshi society and culture, which has helped him to become 'a central figure in delivering on a wide range of humanitarian and development programmes providing vital health, education and livelihoods support to some of the poorest and most marginalised communities' in Bangladesh.

Julian is immensely grateful to many colleagues and friends that he made in Bangladesh and his amiable nature has enabled him to become a highly respected and well-known figure in Bangladesh. To his friends and colleagues, he says, they 'have worked closely with me, at times moulding my thoughts and actions to improve the lives of the most disadvantaged'.

We salute this remarkable person and hope and pray that he keeps good health to continue his great work for his adopted country Bangladesh.

The writer is a senior journalist, political commentator and
sports journalist