MUMBAI – A technical school launched by the Catholic Church in Bangladesh to promote reconstruction after the country’s war of independence in 1971 marked its 50th anniversary Nov. 24, hailed as a concrete of the Christian contribution to development in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation.

The Mirpur Agricultural Workshop and Training School (MAWTS) was launched in 1973 by the Catholic charity Caritas when it became clear that a fleet of trucks, power tillers and irrigation equipment brought into the country as part of reconstruction efforts after the war required a cadre of skilled technicians to keep the equipment functioning.

The original idea was to train rural youth in the needed maintenance work, thereby not only keeping the equipment in good order but also giving those youth marketable skills. From the beginning, MAWTS was designed to serve students of all ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Since that time, MAWTS has grown into a comprehensive technical education facility, with the aim of offering innovative quality products and providing services for the national and international market. The institute produces sufficient revenue to not only cover its own development but also offer scholarships to underprivileged young Bangladeshi men and women.

Of the 1,000 students currently enrolled in MAWTS, roughly 200 receive some form of tuition assistance.

Over the course of the institute’s existence, almost 50,000 students have completed short courses of one to three months, with 83 percent of those graduates currently employed overseas. Almost 1,800 students have completed a three-year course, and a equal number have earned a diploma.

The importance of the institute to economic and social development in Bangladesh is reflected in the fact that Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, speaker of the Bangladesh National Parliament, attended the 50th anniversary celebration.

James Gomes, the director of MAWTS, told Crux that “our contribution to society, without discrimination of faith, will continue,” with future plans including additional courses in agricultural mechanization and engineering, as well as additional language instruction, for example in Japanese and Korean.

Sebastian Rozario, executive director of Caritas Bangladesh, lauded MAWTS for “working tirelessly to increase the social status of the poor, oppressed and affected people in various ways and to improve their fortunes.”

“Emphasis is placed on non-formal and lifelong learning, along with formal education as a result of which a large number of people are able to develop themselves as skilled human resources,” Rozario said. MAWTS are making them self-reliant by imparting skill training.”

“MAWTS have produced hundreds of skilled hands who are contributing to the economic development of the country,” he said. “It always encourages positive practices in developing human qualities along with acquiring knowledge and skills in technology and technical matters.”

Rozario said the institute is also on the cusp of a “green” economy.

“MAWTS plays a pioneering role in the development of the society and the country by manufacturing and supplying various eco-friendly useful products, considering the needs of the times,” he said.

Archbishop Bejoy Nicephorus of Dhaka, on behalf of the Bangladeshi bishops’ conference, said that the institute reflects the universality of the Catholic Church.

“We want to walk the path together through everyone’s participation and cooperation,” he said. “I hope MAWTS will be more convinced to do human service work with honor and dignity upheld.”

Likewise, Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario praised the institute for providing “formation on human fraternity, value education, and self-employment, in foreign languages for those who seek employment abroad.”

“It is said that about 90-95 percent of the students of the MAWTS do not experience unemployment problem because of the excellent training they receive,” D’Rozario said.

“Right from the inception of the MAWTS, incomparable contributions have been made in the nation building,” he said. “For this purpose the, nation as well as the Catholic Church in Bangladesh is proud.”