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On a recent site monitoring visit to Bangladesh, EAA’s Derek Langford met an amazing teacher, Ms Rahima. Below he recounts how she inspired a young student named Sharifa to continue and complete her education at a newly opened BRAC School. Sharifa went on to teach at a Bridge School supported by EAA and BRAC. The following is their inspirational story, as told to Derek, and how we can all play a role in ensuring the next generation of children has access to quality education and a brighter future.
When 29-year-old Ms. Sharifa Akhter, was younger, she recalls the nearest primary school being a far distance away from the village in which she lived. She also remembers that when she started schooling, her parents, themselves uneducated, were not particularly well informed regarding the value of education.
Reflecting on that time, Sharifa asserts, “I was always eager to learn as a child, but the long commute to school made it hard for me…. The school was approximately 1.5 kilometres away… and it was near the main road as well. Children had to cross the road to reach the school, which was a problem because there were big vehicles on the road all the time. Crossing the road was a problem.”
Fortunately, BRAC, an international NGO headquartered in Bangladesh, would soon open a tuition-free Bridge School in her village, thus alleviating her parents’ concerns about the distance and the peril associated with their young child crossing heavily trafficked roads. At school, Sharifa thrived, growing in confidence and grasping her natural abilities in Mathematics, which was her favourite subject. She loved learning how to add, subtract, divide and multiply, especially from her class 1 teacher, Ms. Begum Rahima Kamal Apa. Without question, Sharifa gravitated to Ms. Rahima’s loving, affectionate and animated approach to the classroom.
“She read beautifully in class, helped us with our homework and taught us in groups when it was necessary so that we could understand the lessons better. She sang and danced along with us. She was the kind of person who made breakfast for students who used to come to class without eating at home” Sharifa wrote to me as we continued to correspond after the site monitoring visit had concluded. Perhaps that was the moment, through symbiosis or the sheer power of the example set before her, that Sharifa became fully inspired to one day take up the teacher’s mantle for the children in her community.
Ms. Rahima, a 33-year veteran of the teaching profession, has fond memories of her former pupil too.
‘I want to be a teacher like you when I grow up.’
She remembers, one occasion, when she asked Sharifa during a lesson what she wanted to be when she was older and Sharifa replied, “‘I want to be a teacher like you when I grow up.’”.
That statement greatly touched Ms. Rahima. Years later, when Sharifa became a schoolteacher, she was filled with an enormous sense of pride.
However, though she had been infused with the passion of her role model for years, Sharifa’s pathway into teaching was not exactly straightforward. Upon completing her higher secondary education, she did not sit for the final examinations, due to pending nuptials. Sharifa then moved in with her husband and his family, and her focus shifted away from her studies. But, the situation was unsustainable and sitting at home idly did not, in fact, sit well with her.
“I thought to myself all the effort that I put into my education shouldn’t go to waste,” she explained.
This thinking eventually drove her to Ms. Rahima’s doorstep, who, as fate would have it, happened to live in her neighbourhood. To her former teacher, she confided her distress and expressed her continued desire to be a teacher, just like her. After thinking it over, Ms. Rahima asked her former pupil if she was serious, explaining that it was not going to be easy, and would require a lot of work studying to be a teacher, and also being a teacher. Still, Ms. Rahima said, if she wants to teach, then this should not shake her resolve.
Sure enough, soon after this discussion, Sharifa told her husband and his family of her aspirations and that she was going to work towards becoming a teacher.
In 2014, she began that journey with the support of Ms. Rahima, as well as the training provided by BRAC to prepare her for life in the classroom!
Sharifa currently serves as a primary-level teacher at an EAA-supported Bridge School, , that focuses on reaching out of school children who have dropped out of formal education, and is loving it.
“Teaching for me is a labour of love. I have always wanted to be a teacher and wouldn’t have it any other way…. I want all of my students to become integral members of society. I take pride in seeing them being promoted to higher grades and being a step closer to becoming who they want to be....” Sharifa assured me.
For her part, Ms. Rahima continues to be an active member of her community. She works with parents to improve student attendance and performance, and to resolve other school-related issues. Sharifa is one of at least three other women in the community that Ms. Rahima has helped become teachers.
When asked about her activities, Ms. Rahima says, “Helping women from the community sets a good example for other people, especially other women. It helps them provide for themselves, their families and it also helps them to be dignified members of society. These women do not have to [extend] their hands to other people, because now they are self-sufficient.”
"Humanity will not overcome the immense challenges we face unless we ensure that children get the quality education that equips them to play their part in the modern world." -- HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser