I was always an observant person since childhood. While sitting in the school bus, a group of ragpicker kids, begging on a roadside, caught my sight.
What would they must have been through that they have to put their childhood at stake!
Struggling to find an answer since then, I came across this story of a seven-year-old Gazi Jalaluddin who studied at the local school of his village. Jumping with joy, Gazi, an extremely hardworking and studious kid went to tell his father that he had stood first in 1st standard. However, his father had a news of his own —“Gazi, I can’t afford your studies anymore”.
Gazi’s father was a farmer in the theThakurchak village of Sundarbans, West Bengal. He just had a quarter acre of land which did not yield enough to even return the inputs which eventually left the family starving for days. Gazi’s father was not keeping well and the family moved to Kolkata in search of some work and a square meal for their survival. Unfortunately, no one would hire an ailing man and Gazi ended up begging every day on the streets of Kolkata.
At 12 or 13, Gazi started to work as a rickshaw-puller in the Entally market of Kolkata. And in few more years, at 18, Gazi learnt to drive a taxi and became a taxi-driver in 1977.
However, his mind was always encircled by the thoughts of many young boys back in his village still trying to make ends meet. So he formed ‘Sundarban Driving Samiti’ and started giving driving lessons to the young boys of the Sundarbans so they could start living their lives with dignity.
Gazi also started asking his passengers if they wanted to donate some books or old clothes or medicines. Many people took interest and Gazi would collect books, clothes and medicines from them and distribute it amongst the destitute in his village. Many kids who had to leave studies due to lack of money to buy books just like Gazi; were able to study again with his help.
He continued doing this until 1997, but there was something that still made him feel restless. Since he left studies, Gazi would often dream about a school where kids wouldn’t have to pay anything to study. And now he was determined to do that himself.
Though he didn’t get enough support initially, but this did not discourage this young man and he started his school in one of the rooms of his two-room house. He would go announcing in the village on a mike urging parents to send their kids to school, offering to teach them for free. Initially, no one was keen to send their children as they often asked him that how it would make a difference as they wouldn’t be able to make the kids study further, ruining all chances of them getting a job.
Gazi’s efforts paid off and he started his school, Ismail Israfil Free Primary School (named after his two sons), with 22 students and two teachers in 1998 in Uttar Thakuchak, Sundarbans.
He then kept building one room every year with some donations offered by his passengers and with his savings. By 2012, Gazi managed to build 12 classrooms, 2 washrooms and a mid-day meal room in his school. Without any help from the government, this school dropout was now giving free education and a meal to the underprivileged kids.
Two of Gazi’s passenger helped him to buy land for the school, some took the responsibility to pay the teachers and some helped him to start the mid-day meal in his school. With the help pouring in, he was able to build his second school, SundarbanSikshayatan Mission, in 2009 in PurvThakurchak, Sundarban, 2 Km from his first school. Now, there are around 21 teachers, four non-teaching staff and nearly 425 students in these two schools.
Gazi did not stop here. Many of the students in his schools were orphans who were forced to beg just like him. He wanted to provide shelter to these kids and began to collect funds for an orphanage. More people pitched in and Sundarban Orphanage Mission was built in 2016. He arranges all the residential requirements of these orphans by saving money from his earnings and help received by those who donate.
“I still struggle to give mid-day meal to all the kids. Sometimes, I can’t give the full salary at once to the teachers, but they are also very cooperative. My unknown passengers have helped me to fulfil my dream and I dream of a world where no Gazi has to stop going to school.”-he says.