Sufia Akter Josna's bravery in saving four Emirati children from drowning in October 2014, which resulted in her own untimely death by drowning, impressed many in Bangladesh and abroad. But some of her fellow villagers doubted the authenticity of events.
Last year, the doubters were forced to reconsider. A Dubai charity began the process of establishing a high school in her village of Bhatapara in Sunamganj, in her honour. The planned school will greatly benefit the area's children, including the children of villagers who maligned her.
“When my daughter left for Dubai to support her family,” recalls Sufia's mother, “some whispered that Sufia had destroyed the family's honour. Even after her death people gossiped that maybe she had been killed or punished for bad deeds.”
“Nobody protested these slanderous accusations,” she continues, “even at the time of her burial. They didn't believe the truth of her bravery.”
With six children and a husband incapacitated due to illness, Sufia decided to go to Dubai in 2009 when her family was on the brink of financial collapse. She took responsibility for the whole family's finances. Through monthly remittances she brought them into solvency. But with stereotypical gender roles prevailing locally, many villagers were unwilling to understand her working as a nanny.
To recognise her self-sacrifice, charity Dubai Cares in conjunction with Brac is building the new high school under the direction of the UAE's honourable Vice-President, the Prime Minister and ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The project's foundation stone was laid on May 10, 2016.
With the nearest high school 6km away along sometimes impassable roads, the new institution is desperately needed. Bhatapara is an area of disadvantage with an upazila-wide literacy rate of just 32 percent, according to a Brac official. Many leave school early.
“I used to walk miles barefoot to attend high school,” says local resident, health worker Lookman Ahmed. “I really struggled to graduate.” He says the new school will bring considerable relief to Bhatapara's students.
According to Brac area manager Abdus Salam, the school will occupy 100 decimals, with 20 decimals dedicated to buildings while the remainder will constitute playgrounds. “The school will cater to students from seven villages,” says Salam. “Our target is 500 enrolments per year, with an expectation of 300 students in the first year.”
Academic activities are currently slated to commence in 2018. “We had a plan to start classes this January but due to the preparation needed to establish a school we've postponed the start of classes to next year,” explains Salam.
Nonetheless, as the new institution moves closer to reality, villagers are understandably excited. “Sufia left the village for her family,” says neighbour Angur Miah, “Now her death has brought new hope to the whole village. Our children will easily complete their secondary education thanks to Sufia's school.”
“The government has not approved any public high school to run up to Secondary School Certificate level,” says Sunamganj's district Education Officer Nizam Uddin, “so the Bhatapara school will run academic programmes to class-VIII until the government permits further classes.”
“The education rate in remote haor areas like Dharmapasha is very poor,” he adds, noting the value of the initiative to build the school in Sufia's memory.
With her younger children still at primary school and madrasa, it is likely Sufia's family will benefit directly from the enhanced education opportunity. “Our family is really delighted to be getting a secondary school in the village,” says Sufia's husband Khurshid Miah. “My wife went to Dubai for our family's survival. Now her bravery in sacrificing her life for the children of another family might bring real benefit here.”
Sufia's mother meanwhile hopes the school will once and for all stop the negative rumours. “Due to our visitors from Dubai and the new school,” she says, “all the villagers will know the reality of my brave daughter. I'm very proud of her!”
The school's official name might be Bhatapara Secondary School, but to all in the area it shall forever be “Sufia's school”. Indeed, with education's light set to shine brighter in Bhatapara, local women who decide in the future to fight to provide for their families might find that the reaction of other villagers is no longer of derision, but of respect and admiration, of the sort that Sufia truly deserved.
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