A school for the poor Once a child labourer, Alok Chandra sets up free school for underprivileged kids

As the sun sets on the horizon in Elahipur village of Khulna’s Rupsha upazila, most children begin heading home from the playgrounds; except eight-year-old Sukur. The child eagerly leaves his homes and makes his way to Anushilon Mojar School.

“I have been waiting all day for this wonderful moment,” Sukur said.

Like many of his fellow classmates, Sukur had never thought of reading books and writing before enrolling in the school. After his father left him and his mother a few years ago, the duo joined a fish processing company in the locality to make ends meet.

But the earning was too little and education became a luxury they could not afford.

In 2017, the authority of Anushilon Mojar School provided free tuition to Sukur who once had no knowledge of reading and writing. Today he is a proud nursery student of Elahipur Government Primary School.

“I had to spend all day working but now everything has changed. The teachers are very affectionate and caring. They love me very much. They also give me snacks during the evening school,” he said.

The initiative for the school was taken by Alok Chandra Das. Once a child labourer himself, Das understood the importance of education and worked hard to attain a bachelors and masters in Economics degrees from Government Sundarban Adarsha College and Government Khulna BL College respectively.

His journey was not easy. His father, who was a stenographer at the Khulna Chamber of Commerce and Industry, lost his job when the work became digitalised. As the second eldest son, some of the financial burden of running the family fell on Das’s shoulders.

“I can feel what the child-labourers feel as I took the same path during my schooldays. At the time, I had to work as a pick-up van helper and a carpenter to maintain my five-member family and support my education,” Das said.

For the last three years, he has been trying to bring underprivileged kids to mainstream education.

To do so the 32-year-old, along with three local youths, founded Anushilon Mojar School, a free makeshift school, with 15 underprivileged children in 2015.

underprivileged kids

Alok and his students pose for a photo at the gate of the school. Photo: Collected

The school currently has two branches– one in Elahipur and another in Rupsha Ghat area– having 80 students in total. Most of them work at the fish processing companies while some work as day labourers, farm labourers or scavengers.

There are six locally-educated youths who work as volunteer teachers. They give the children free pre-school education, besides serving food and supplying materials like books, pens, pencils and bags, said Das.

The teachers focus on the basics of education so the children are equipped to enroll in mainstream schools.

As many as 45 students of Mojar School entered mainstream education in 2017 and in the current year. They were enrolled at different educational institutions like Elahipur Government Primary School and Noihati Government Primary School, he said.

“We still give these 45 kids free tuition at Mojar School after sunset.”

Local resident Syed Shafiqur Rahman, an official of Khulna Power Station, said Das has really made them proud. “With his degree, he could have settled for a good job to lead a comfortable life but he sacrificed it all.”

Das, who runs a small flexi-load business at Elahipur, often goes through financial hardship to run the school but he remains resolute in his pursuit.

“The smiling faces of the kids give me great pleasure despite my financial crisis,” Das said.

However, Das refuses to take full credit. Some local people and well-wishers have also extended their helping hand to run the school, he said.

“To give the children a full life, I have a plan to launch a ‘Learning and Earning’ project for them in the near future. Otherwise, at the end of day, they may drop out of mainstream schools for a handful of rice.”

Hailing Das’s great initiative, SM Alamgir Hossain, member of Noihati Union Parishad, said a little help from the government could have a big impact on the lives of unprivileged children.