Touching lives near and far | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 29, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, May 29, 2020

Touching lives near and far

Dear Mrs. Manzur,

There's something really special about the community that you built and the type of leader that you were. Since the news of your death surfaced, generations of your students have been pouring their hearts out, each story highlighting special personal connections with you. Thank you to everyone who has shared their tributes to Mrs. Manzur—your words have helped me when I had none of my own.

Initially, I did not fully realise the impact you had on me with your impeccable leadership—the kind that didn't shy away from creating your own indicators of success, that measured value beyond numbers and that always prioritised fostering a sense of community. Recently though, I noticed how strongly I hold onto those values in all my areas of work. I have been meaning to have these conversations with you, to express my gratitude to you for being the mentor and guardian that you were. But you were always so accessible, always around, always within reach. I felt no rush. I believed that you, as the institution that you built, were eternal.

Since graduation, I've been back in the halls of Sunbeams many, many times—that's the type of community that you built. It has always pulled me back. One of those times, I went back to kick-start this big little dream I had, similar to yours: Kotha. I always felt I could lean on my Sunbeams family, but the support I received from the very start was beyond my expectations. I had sent out an email about a partnership with Sunbeams while sitting at the Mount Holyoke College library. I felt your warmth all the way from the US when I learnt that the school was on board.

I am so grateful to you for opening the Sunbeams gates to Kotha and trusting me with your Sunbeams children, my "siblings", back in 2016 when I was launching the small pilot project. During my school days, I had been called to your office many times—sometimes for getting in trouble, sometimes for small accomplishments. When we last met in your office, we were discussing Kotha. I remember you mentioned that you were ready to provide all the support I needed. You even threw out the idea of arranging special bus service if we wanted to hold Kotha's classes after school hours. I drew so much strength from the confidence you had in me. The community you built played, and continues to play, an integral role in my journey with Kotha and beyond.

Over the years, I have grown to become critical of this institution and its community. When something feels like a second home and a second family, you feel responsible to hold it to higher standards, to hold it accountable and to always challenge it to be better. That is how I feel about Sunbeams. My Sunbeams family will always be close to my heart and I am so thankful to be a member of this community you have built.

There was something so comforting and peaceful thinking about Sunbeams and knowing that it was, for the most part, exactly the same as I left it eight years ago. The news of your passing immediately made me think: Sunbeams won't be the same anymore. But it has to be. I was not wrong. You, and the institution you have built from the ground up, with its seven core values—Knowledge, Leadership, Patriotism, Integrity, Humility, Confidence and Commitment—are, in fact, eternal. Your Sunbeams family will see to it.


Umama Zillur is from Sunbeams batch of 2012 and founder of Kotha, a feminist youth organisation based in Bangladesh fighting gender-based violence.

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