The Dhaka Catenians Dhaka 929 - The Catenian Association's new group in Bangladesh, with an introduction to Dhaka and Bangladesh, by Tom Brassil of North Warwickshire Catenian Circle (*~)

Dhaka is the capital of Bangladesh, which means "Home of the Bengalis" in the Bangla language. Bangladesh was first called East Pakistan when it was brought into existence by the partition of the British Indian Empire in August 1947 into India, a majority Hindu nation, and Pakistan, a majority Muslim nation.

Pakistan was split into West Pakistan and East Pakistan, two portions of one Muslim nation separated by some 1,500 miles of hostile Indian territory.

In East Pakistan (Bengal), there were growing signs of unrest and a push for self-determination. The Urdu speaking West Pakistanis were said by Bengali nationalists to discourage Bangla, the original language of Bengal, treat Bengalis like second class citizens and to rule the province like a Colony. They also kept a large army in Bengal, officially to discourage armed invasion from India.

The Republic of Bangladesh was created by a vicious War of Independence in 1971 between the Bengali Nationalists in East Pakistan, supported by the military forces of neighbouring India against the army of West Pakistan.

The war cost the lives of an estimated 3 million Bengalis. Some 10 million Bengali refugees fled to India whilst about 30 million people were internally displaced. On the 16th December 1971, West Pakistan surrendered to the Allied Forces of Bangladesh and India in the East of the subcontinent.

After the war, Bangladesh was in a quite terrible state – the then US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, described Bangladesh as “a basket case”. Since then, the new nation has largely recovered, significantly grown it’s economy, addressed many aspects of social welfare and well-being and is now on the cusp of emerging from the ranks of what the UN calls “Less Developed Nations” to stand proudly amongst the nations of the world as a young, progressive and forward looking country.


The Catenians are a non-political Catholic Men's Organisation founded in England in 1908 to promote friendship, family life and the Catholic faith and have now grown to over 10,500 members on 4 continents. Catenians cherish their Ladies and families and involve them in many activities. Our local groups are known as Circles and meet at least monthly. "Catena" is Latin for "Chain", and our Circles form a chain of friendship and faith around the world. To find out more, go to

In September 2012, North Warwickshire Catenian Circle enrolled a 34 year old Bangladeshi Brother, Ronald Reberio. Soon afterwards, Ronald decided that the Catenian Association would be very useful in the Catholic Community in Bangladesh. He spoke about this to his father Eugene and his dad's friend Milon Khan, and talked to many others on a visit home to Dhaka in early 2013.

Ronald and Sumi Reberio at Birmingham Christmas Market in 2013.

Father Mintu Palma, a popular priest from Dhaka, visited Birmingham later in 2013 and was shown around Warwickshire with Ronald by Tom Brassil, North Warwickshire's Membership Officer. Father Mintu had dinner at Tom's home with Ronald and we talked about founding a Catenian Group in Dhaka.

Father Mintu Palma, Spiritual Director of Dhaka 929, visiting Warwickshire with Tom Brassil in 2013.

In July 2013, Milon Khan, Ronald's dad's friend, visited Birmingham and had the tour of Warwickshire with Ronald and Tom, and also had dinner at Tom's home. Again, the conversation was about setting up The Catenians in Dhaka. Milon attended North Warwickshire's July Circle Meeting, and was most impressed.

Milon Khan, Ronald Reberio, North Warwickshire President Kevin Doherty, Cyprian Gomes and Membership Officer Tom Brassil at a Circle Meeting in Dorridge in July 2013.
Dhaka Founder President Milon Khan with Ronald Reberio and Cyprian Gomes in July 2013 visiting North Warwickshire 111 Circle

When I found myself visiting Dhaka on a brief Consultancy assignment in September 2013 I took the opportunity to speak to several groups of interested Catholic men, and answered some quite challenging questions about The Catenians. I brought with me a considerable amount of Catenian documentation, particularly about Membership and gave the enthusiasts I met copies of these.

I was privileged to attend and to speak at the very first meeting of the 11 Pioneer Members of The Dhaka Catenians at the Hungry Deals Restaurant in Tejgaon, Dhaka on the 21st September 2013.

At the end of April 2015, the Dhaka 929 Catenian Group had grown to 34 brothers, and have a further 7 potential members in the pipeline in a nearby town called Narayanganj. Plans are well in hand to set up a Foundation Group in Rajshahi in the North East (6 hours drive from Dhaka), where 13 new members have already signed up and another new Group in Chittagong, Bangladesh's second city and major port, on the Bay of Bengal about an hour's plane ride from Dhaka.

Dhaka 929 now spends about 25% of its total operating income on membership and recruitment matters.

Some of the original Dhaka Catenian members with their Spiritual Director, Father Mintu on the 10th Jurne 2014.

On the 10th May 2014, Catenian Director of Development Areas Brother Tony Godden announced at the Liverpool Conference that the Grand Council of the Catenian Association had approved The Dhaka Catenians as a Foundation Group, and planning began immediately to formally Inaugurate them as the Dhaka 929 Group in October 2014.

Bro Tony Godden and his charming wife Kelly flew to Dhaka to preside at the formal Inauguration Ceremony at the Centre of Catholic Bishops Conference of Bangladesh (CBCB) on Friday 31st October 2014

Past Grand President Tony Godden and his wife Kelly
Dhaka 929 Group's Council with Bros Tony Godden and Tom Brassil at their formal Inauguration on 31 October 2014.
Some of the (remarkably young!) Dhaka 929 Council Members with their families.
North Warwickshire 111 Circle twinned with Dhaka 929 at the Inauguration, and presented them with an engraved gavel set.
What "twinning" really means. After hours interaction with Bro President Eugene.
Dhaka Treasurer "No receipt, no payment" Theofil.
Catenian kids, Bro President Eugene's grandkids Adey and Wayne !
Mrs "Director Development Areas" Kelly Godden interacting with Dhaka Secretary Evans and President Eugene. Kelly is most welcome back in Dhaka anytime...!
Kelly Godden visiting "Shoe Heaven" at Basundahara Mall. She later wore the special gold shoes to Dhaka 929's Inauguration Ceremony.
Meeting Archbishop Patrick of Dhaka and Head of the Catholic Church in Bangladesh.
Dhaka Catholics are devout, This is one of many House Masses organised by The Dhaka Catenians during Lent.
I attended Tejgaon Church for the annual blessing of the graves, and briefly thought I was at a football match. There must have been about 5,000 people there. Note the beautiful grave dressings.

We've heard so far about The Dhaka Catenians, but know little about Dhaka itself or indeed about Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is a poor country with a large, growing population. Average income per head is about £600 pa, compared with India at £1,000 pa, Sri Lanka at £2,000 pa, and the UK at £23,000 pa. However the economy is growing quite rapidly.

The 2013 Economist Magazine Survey of 140 cities worldwide in terms of quality of life put Dhaka at 139th, Damascus (in an active war zone) came last.

Forbes Magazine says Dhaka is the most densely populated city on earth, with 115,200 people per square mile and 14.4 Million people. Some commentators think Dhaka's true population is nearer 20 Million if you include the "invisible" slum and street dwellers.

The UN set 8 Millennium Development Goals for Bangladesh to be achieved by 2015. Bangladesh has met 5 of these to date and made good progress on the other 3. Successes include alleviating the most extreme poverty, reducing child malnutrition and mortality, achieving boy/girl parity in primary education and combatting diseases such as malaria, HIV and tuberculosis.

Bangladesh does suffer from some Islamic terrorism perpetrated by a tiny minority of fundamentalist criminals, but Bangladesh is making better progress against these extremists than most Asian countries. Normal crime against Westerners is extremely rare.

Bangladesh is a land of wide rivers and too much water
Village life continues largely unaffected by the 21st Century - this is a traditional "Country Boat"
Everything grows in Bangladesh, just drop a seed and wait....!
Fruit and Veg, anyone ?
Dhaka's magnificent flower market
The Tea Gardens in Sylhet, NE Bangladesh. Most so called UK "Indian" restaurants are actually Bangladeshi, and run by Sylhetis.
Time for a Cuppa, ladies ?
Dhaka has lovely historic buildings. This is the "Lal Bagh" or Red Fort, built by the Mughals who occupied India centuries before the British arrived.
The "Ahsan Manzil", the official residence of the Nawabs (Lords) of Dhaka built in 1859. It is now a national museum.
Front view of the magnificent Ahsan Manzil. In February 1904 Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, on a visit to East Bengal, stayed here to win public support for the then proposed Partition of Bengal. The palace later became the cradle of the All India Muslim League.
This old palace (built by a major Bangladeshi "Jamidar" or landlord) now seems to need a little tender loving care
This is the wonderful Curzon Hall, built in 1904 and named after the British Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon. It now houses the Faculty of Science of the University of Dhaka.
The magnificent old Armenian Church in Dhaka. The Armenians came to manage the Jute Mills (most sacking is made of Jute) and were also prominent in the Salt trade.
The interior of Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Tejgaon, the oldest in Dhaka, built byPortugeuse Augustinians in 1677. It's part of a large complex of Catholic properties, including the modern Tejgaon Church, a boy's school, a girl's school and an 80 girl orphanage, all originally founded by a British lady called Mrs Bottomley.

I was privileged to attend 6am Mass at the Bottomley Girls Orphanage run by nuns for 80+ girls aged 8 to 16, listen to the girls lovely singing at Mass and have breakfast with the nuns. Afterwards I spent some time with the girls at their breakfast and spoke (in my awfully poor Bangla, to their obviously enormous amusement...!) to many of them.

They all seemed happy and well cared for, but when the girls reach the age of 16 they have to leave shortly afterwards. The orphanage provides some vocational training, but this only prepares the girls to become low wage workers in Dhaka's booming garment trade. No training is given for any girl who aspires to an office job, for example.

I resolved to try and help with this by raising money to provide IT equipment and funding office skills and Microsoft Office training for the brighter girls.

This is the modern Tejgaon Catholic Church, built next to Dhaka's oldest Church to accommodate the growing numbers of Mass goers.
The dining room in the Bottomley Catholic School and Girls Orphanage opposite Tejgaon Church. The picture was taken during an open day lunch for Clergy, Teachers and invited lay people.
Dhaka has many magnificentMosques, this one is in the outskirts of the City
Male cleaning staff resting after their work in the beautifully decorated Ladies Prayer Room of a Dhaka Mosque.
Dhaka traffic is notorious - it can take 20 minutes or two hours to travel 2 Km, the problem is you never know which..! Most drivers are uninsured and many have paid a modest bribe to pass their driving test. Corruption is endemic in Bangladesh.
A battle scarred public bus. You don't take on one of these big boys in Dhaka ...!
A typical street junction in Dhaka. No one seems to pay any attention to the traffic lights, green means go, but so does red !
Fast food Dhaka style in the cooler evening in the popular Gulshan shopping and entertainment district
Dhaka is a city of pedal rickshaws, often beautifully decorated - everyone travels by rickshaw to beat the horrendous traffic
Including yours truly, the wandering Catenian, Tom Brassil....!
Normal traffic in Old Dhaka...!
This park leads to the new parliament building, behind the tomb of President Ziaur Rahman who was prominent in the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. He was married to Begum Khaleda Zia, the leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. The BNP are the main opposition party to the present Awami League government, led by the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hassina Wajed. Bangladesh is unique among Islamic Nations in having women leading both the government and main opposition parties.
Inside the magnificent parliament building with all mod cons
There is quite often political unrest in Dhaka
You really don't want to be mixed up in anything like this. Opposition Parties call frequent national strikes called Hartals, where protesters prohibit all four wheeled transport, often for 2 days at a time.

This prohibition of 4 wheeled vehicles by the organisers of Hartals leads to severe economic disruption, closing large shops, offices and factories, and this prohibition is sometimes enforced by street violence. However, pedal rickshaws and 3 wheeled motor rickshaws ("CNGs") can usually travel freely during Hartals, so life continues during these difficult periods.

Bangladeshis aren't overly concerned with Western Health and Safety standards as this typical Dhaka building site clearly shows
The Rana Plaza garment factory collapse which killed 2,000 workers was caused by poor regulation enforcement. The owners HAD a safety certificate, obtained for a bribe of a few hundred Taka (£1 - 125 Taka)
Bangladesh does have Theme Parks - this one (naturally water based) was the first.
The wonderful Dhaka Planetarium
Bangladeshis are kind, they understand that Foreigners may have peculiar toilet habits (and possibly funny shaped bits as well !) and sometimes allow for these.
Many foreigners don't like proper Asian toilets like this rather clean one, and they may also want strange things like toilet paper instead of just washing their rear ends like most civilised Asian people do....!
Dhaka's dark side. There are an estimated 600,000 kids living and sleeping rough on Dhaka streets.
Street kids are often beaten up by the Police, and are obviously vulnerable to every passing stranger.
Young girls are specially vulnerable, particularly in a Muslim society where male access to females is strictly controlled.
Street kids live, sleep and eat on the streets, and often share their food with the roaming feral street dogs, many of which have Rabies.
Street kids often survive by selling stuff to passers-by, manyin cars halted by the usual terrible traffic congestion. This makes them even more vulnerable to a stranger's whims.
A street vendor selling vegetables. Behind him is a tin shack about the same size (Perhaps 8ft x 6ft ?) as Christian Brother Lucio's home in an awful Dhaka slum.
Brother Lucio shares his bathroom (quite definitelyNOT as nice as this one...!) with fourteen slum families, and runs a non- denominational Street Kid's Charity.

Christian Brother Lucio was born in Italy, speaks and writes good English, Portuguese and absolutely fluent Bangla, and can joke with the locals on Dhaka streets just like a Bangladeshi. He lives in a tiny tin shack in a truly awful Dhaka slum with no running water and has electricity (to run his light and the fan) for perhaps 4 hours a day.

He visits Tejgaon Presbytery for a decent lunch once a week, showers & then does his own laundry.

Bro Lucio is the nearest thing to a Living Saint I've ever met.

Some Street Kids are lucky enough to be cared for, at least sometimes, by various charities. Most are amazingly cheerful....

Bro Lucio's Street Kids Charity is non-denominational, has a tiny loaned office, no paid staff and survives (like the kids) from hand to mouth. They only accept cash help from people who actually work with them on the streets, but luckily this does include The Dhaka Catenians.

I want to raise funds to help Bro Lucio's Street Kids Charity to be provided via The Dhaka Catenians. Because of the difficulty in costing things in such a low cost operation, at this point we're partly guessing but I think we need at least £5,000 or more to fund the office, which would enable them to start getting organised to raise funds locally for a half-way house to get at least a few kids off the street.

We also need to fund vocational training and buy some basic IT equipment for the Catholic Girls Orphanage in Tejgaon, which also takes children of other faiths aged 8-16. At age 16 they have to leave the safety of the orphanage. The Brothers of Dhaka 929 have agreed to manage and supervise the project, and they have many young Brothers willing to help by training the girls. We need £5,000 for equipment, a 2 year maintenance contract and Internet access for the training room.

The Principal of the Orphanage, Sister Biyoja was delighted by this Catenian Initiative and has agreed to cooperate fully with Dhaka 929 in implementing the skills training to help the girls.

As getting money into Bangladesh is difficult due to government rules, I'm collecting cash. I give it to a North Warwickshire Brother who sends it via bank transfer to his elderly father in Dhaka, who is a Brother of Dhaka 929. The government allows this due to the family connection. It's a bit complex, but we know it works...!


Thanks for watching this & goodbye ! If you have any questions, or you would like to help, please email Tom Brassil on
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