Taherul Islam, a retired primary teacher of Shara-Gopalpur village in Pabna's Ishwardi upazila, set up a free school for underprivileged children seven years ago.
What began as a ray of hope for 4-5 children now has 50 children who are learning to read and write.
In the last leg of his career, Taherul served as the headmaster of Rooppur Girls Primary School. Upon retirement, his desire to make a change in society did not end.
He hung a signboard on a roadside tree that read 'Bina Poishar Pathshala' and began enrolling street children.
“There are many families living on railway lands beside the Ishwardi-Rooppur road. Most of the children dropped out soon after admission, with the crux of the problem lying in extreme poverty,” 70-year-old Taherul told The Daily Star last week.
Parents of slum children are not interested in education, as it takes the children away from other revenue earning opportunities, like begging.
“Initially, I had to do quite a bit of counselling so that they sent their children to study. I, myself, often picked up the children and dropped them home after classes.
“Now, word of mouth ensures that they are present.”
A student at the school, nine-year-old Jewel Rana said, “I was admitted at Shara Gopalpur Primary School last year, but I did not continue as I did not have money to buy writing pads, pencils or anything else.
“Taherul sir gave me everything and I now go to school every day.”
Rabeya Khatun, wife of a van puller, sends her seven-year-old son Azmir to Bina Poishar Pathshala every day.
“Just a few years ago, I was not interested in his academics. Taherul came to our home and persuaded me to send him. I sent him reluctantly, but it was the best decision I ever took.”
Earlier this year, Azmir got a chance at Shara Gopalpur Primary School. “He is now going to school as well as getting free lessons from Taherul Sir. All credit goes to him.”
Taherul's charity inspired other youth in the area as well. With the number of children in attendance also increasing, he now has two college-going girls in the village helping him out.
“I am fortunate to be learning what the duties of a teacher are from Taherul,” said Muslima Akter Borsha, a part-time teacher at the school.
Md Amirul Islam, a teacher at Diar Baghoil Primary School, said Taherul has set an example in society of what a noble profession like teaching should look like. “He is an inspiration to all teachers.”
Taherul has always been supported by his wife Tahera Khatun, who also retired as a primary school teacher.
“Naturally, the children do not come in on rainy or stormy days and during cold waves as we sit under the open sky to do lessons.”
He is speaking to locals for a piece of land in the area where he can give a shape to the school, so that the children never have to miss a day for bad weather.
“I want to continue my duty to educate till my last breath,” he said.