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Bangladesh van accident claims two of Alam’s kin

After suffering the loss of his mother and third oldest brother, who died in a van crash eight weeks ago while traveling to the capital of Bangladesh, community leader Morshed Alam planned to pick up his second oldest brother, nephew and niece from the airport this week.

“I'm trying to be strong and trying to organize and bring back whatever I have left,” said Alam, 46, the youngest of five brothers, who had finally received news that 15 of his family members' permanent residency visas were about to come through when he learned about the accident on June 6.

The crash left eight family members injured in addition to killing his mother and brother. The 10 had been traveling from their hometown, Chandpur, to Dhaka to undergo medical tests required for their visas and to be interviewed by immigration officials.

Alam immediately bought a plane ticket and flew to the country of his birth to be with his family.

"It’s a tough life. Everything happened unplanned," said Alam, sitting next to his wife Monday in a diner in his Jamaica Estates neighborhood. “I applied for four brothers to come here. My oldest brother died last year of a stroke. My heart broke. He was my model.”

Now a year after the loss of his oldest brother, Alam must cope with the tragic losses that shattered his dreams and those of his family.

“It’s tough to get through this,” Alam said. "What I lost is priceless and I cannot regain. They all are so close to me. They're my life. Where am I going to get my mother and brother?”

While in Bangladesh for three weeks following the accident, Alam paid for medical bills, organized funeral arrangements, mourned and gave moral support to his family.

“They had a dream (of coming to America) for the last 13, 14 years and all of a sudden it’s gone. There are a lot of complications,” said Alam. “So I've got to take care of all these things and try to organize their lives.”

Alam immigrated with his wife to Queens in 1984 after graduating from the University of Dhaka with a master’s degree in chemistry. The couple lived in Queens Village for nine years before moving to their current home on 169th Street in Jamaica Estates. They have three daughters, who are now 18, 16, and 13.

A longtime political activist, Alam campaigned for a seat on School Board 29 in 1996 and became the first South Asian in the city to be elected to a public office. Two years later, he ran against well-established state Sen. Frank Padavan and narrowly lost, attracting a surprisingly strong 42 percent of the votes.

Now retired from the school board, Alam, a chemist for the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, remains active in the community as the president of the New American Democratic Club, board chairman of the Eastern Queens Democratic Club and executive director of the American Bangladeshi Friendship Association civic group.

Alam has received many phone calls and much support from local elected officials, including U.S. Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside), Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) and Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans), U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), state Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin and City Councilmen David Weprin (D-Hollis) and Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans).

“I have a lot of friends and I count on them,” said Alam. “Everybody’s concerned. Gregory Meeks calls me personally from Washington and tells me, ‘Don’t worry. I’m with you. Be strong.’”

Two of Alam’s friends from the Eastern Queens Democratic Club, Chet Szarejko and Harbachan Singh, are organizing a dinner to raise money for the Alam family. The dinner will be held on Aug. 14 beginning at 7:30 p.m. at the Malabar Palace at 206-12 Hillside Avenue in Queens Village.

One of Alam’s greatest concerns is his nephew, who lost his father and grandmother in the recent accident.

“He’s alone. He doesn’t know what to do. I’m really trying hard to bring him to this country,” said Alam.

For now, Alam is happy that his second oldest brother and his brother’s family will be joining him this week in the United States. He has begun constructing a two-bedroom extension to his house so that family members can live with him after they arrive in the country.

“Now, for the time being, I don’t have any thoughts except organizing my family, giving them a moral boost and putting them in the right direction,” said Alam. “I need everybody’s prayers for my family. That’s the most important thing at this time.”

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, ext. 155.

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