Astonishing April

International Events Manager Lisa Pierre reports on what happens when best laid plans are taken out of your hands in Bangladesh
2013 Bangladesh Alumni dinner
Guests pictured at the Alumni Dinner held at the Westin Dhaka
We were supported by institution staff members and the British Council who were just as keen as we were that the show must go on as along as everyone was safe

There have been many last minute hitches with events over the years. A roof collapsing an hour before an event (no injuries), countless power cuts, bats in the room, sticking furniture back together with super glue, goods stuck in customs, all the female staff turning up in the same colour dress (not planned), typhoons and floods to name just a few. But the one saving grace of it all was that despite the drama going on behind the scenes the students and alumni turned up and enjoyed.

So what to do as I sit in Dhaka on my second hartal* day locked down in the hotel and news of another hartal reaches us. No, it will not happen they cried. It’s a Friday. They never call hartals on a Friday. But guess what? The first ever hartal on Friday was called from 6pm. With the city in a state of unrest with the knowledge that a Long March of 1.5 million protesters was due to arrive overnight to besiege Dhaka by the Saturday morning, should we proceed?

"Would anyone come? Would I be standing there all alone? The answer was, yes, they did come and I was far from alone."

Would anyone come? Would I be standing there all alone? The answer was, yes, they did come and I was far from alone. When our first guest turned up, Sheikh Aminul Islam Rakin, they didn’t stop.

Students and alumni braved the streets of Dhaka to attend the third alumni dinner. We were supported by institution staff members and the British Council who were just as keen as we were that the show must go on as along as everyone was safe.

Special guest Rosemary Arnott, British Council Director Bangladesh, remarked: “Just as a 36-hour hartal (general strike) had been announced, we met at the Westin, Dhaka for a wonderful University of London dinner. It’s always difficult to predict the behavior of Dhakayas during a hartal. Sometimes extreme caution is exercised; at other times life continues almost as normal. Would 50 people turn up or the full 250?  I’m amazed at people’s ‘hartal antennae’. The fact that close to 200 alumni braved the city’s security challenges to attend the UoL dinner that evening was testimony to real pride in their UK qualification. That’s why it is such a joy to work in Bangladesh.”

Simon Askey and guests at the 2013 Alumni Dinner, Dhaka It was a true testament to the alumni spirit, and the affinity that these students and alumni have with us. They said they wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Many though could not make it and we received countless emails, texts and Facebook messages saying how sad they were to be unable to attend.

Simon Askey, Deputy Director, Undergraduate Laws Programme (pictured centre with guests), commented: “It was great to see so many people at the alumni event despite the hartal. It was a tough call cancelling the Convocation ceremony but it turned out to be the right decision. Thankfully we managed to run all but one of the revision classes and we hope that our input we be reflected in examination output!”

So “Thank You” to all of you who made this another successful event and a successful trip to Bangladesh despite what was happening on the streets of Dhaka. Thank you for attending - not even a strike can keep our students and alumni away. The events are for you and about you. You really are all part of a unique global community!

[*hartal noun (in South Asia) the act of closing shops or suspending work, especially in political protest.]

  • See photos from this event on Flickr.
  • Find out more about studying for a University of London degree in Bangladesh.