Jahangir flipping through the pages of a book. Photo: Star
Rural Bangladesh is a world of fields beset with crops. Everywhere, we work to bring a sustainable change. This is our soil. Bangladeshis rise from within the soil. We have taken great strides with agro-based improvements and productions. But, how far has the same community come in terms of access to education and information?
Farmers sacrifice their life for cultivation. Soil and crops bestow upon them the necessary elements of life. But, farming or otherwise, the world moves ahead with information and contemporary education. But Bangladeshi farmers are stuck without any direct access to knowledge. Academic learning, advanced info-technologies are very important in unlocking the full growth potential of any sector. Nevertheless, in the competitive crowd of info-business, farmers are mere participants. Today, I will tell you a story of a true exception.
Today, I'm taking you to a a source of light in rural Bangladesh, a library set in rural Bangladesh. It's situated in Kaliganj village in Naogaon's Mandah upazila. Two years back, a local entrepreneur, Jahangir, established this library, and named it Shah Agriculture Information Centre. Farmers often find themselves in crisis due to the lack of information while they cultivate. This man has established the library where farmers will get all kinds of information. He firmly believes that a farmer has to be educated, regardless of what kind of work or farming he is involved with. His library has books of different genres, including agricultural books. Farmers can also find books on education, health, sports and other necessary books. Wherever he went, he collected books for his library. Farmers come to his library to take advice and they take books home to read. Many illiterate farmers are learning how to read and write as well from their peers.
Jahangir receiving 'Best Essay' Award at Channel i-Agriculture Award from US Embassy's Press & Information Officer Kelly McCarthy. PHOTO: STAR
Everyone in the region knows about the library. There is a farmers' school on the extended veranda. Inside the hut, the library awaited. Some elders were reading inside. Many come here from far-flung areas in search of knowledge. And I engaged in conversation with one of them.
“What are you reading?”
“A book on raising ducks and chicken.”
“Do you use the knowledge that you get from the library?”
I talked with another farmer who was reading intensely.
“Why are you here, sir?
“This library has helped me a lot. I have learnt so much. I am here to keep learning.”
Educated mass and successful farmers rush to the library to learn something new. This small clay-hut is a knowledge-hub for villagers.
“I received the best fish-farmer award in this upazila,” a farmer told me.
“I am very glad to hear that. Did you become a member of this library?
“No. There is no membership requirement.”
“Do you need to pay?”
They not only read here but take books at home. To take a book home, all one has to do is sign his name. Often taking part in school-learning, farmers have opportunity to learn the letters. The library has has a tremendous impact ojn farmers and on their production.
“I'm have been able to get better yield from my farm using the knowledge I acquired from the library.”
“Tell us more.”
The way I used to produce crops, it has certainly increased now as I've gone through books…learned about new technologies. In the past, I used to get 10 maunds of rice from one-bigha land, now I'm getting around 14maunds from the same land!”
“That's really great to know!” I exclaimed.
Jahangir Alam Shah, is a devotee of agriculture and education. He is behind the making of successful farmers, and is the man who has illuminated the lives of farmers with knowledge. This century-old clay hut belongs to Jahangir's ancestors. The old hut has awakened with the light of knowledge.
They come here to take books, owing to their passion for education. I spoke with Jahangir about his noble initiative.
“I am a farmer since my childhood. I couldn't solve my agricultural problems as I couldn't go to any experts. I also searched for books- to know and learn better. But, I failed.”
Then, he met Professor Moyeenuddin of Rajshahi Medical College. He learned from him that books have solution to everything. And that is what kindled Jahangir to begin collecting books.
“I started off at the agricultural library to quench my thirst for information”, he added. Jahangir Alam Shah, teacher of Rajshahi Collegiate School, been thinking about the crisis of knowledge at the grassroots. He has always given emphasis on the issue of farmers' learning and closely observed how people become defenseless due to lack of education and information. Seeing the reality, Jahangir established this school-cum-library in a remote area like Kaligram.
“I want to establish a full-fledged agro-info centre. I want to make sure that farmers will get new information”, that's the objective of Jahangir.
The school looks animated each day, abuzz with people. To educate the illiterate farmers, Jahangir has appointed teachers at his own cost. In a short time, farmers learn to read and write. It's simply outstanding! Many farmers like Azahar and Shahanara take lessons. Everyday, the number of literate people increase in the village.
There are many initiatives to inspire farmers towards education. Jahangir regularly hands out 50 pens among his students. Farmers can only get a new pen while giving back the old empty one - an innovative incentive mechanism to boost farmers to write.
Meanwhile, Jahangir organized seventeen agro-based seminars. Farmers were highly benefited from the knowledge disseminated at these events.
The library has enabled farmers to think in new avenues which they never considered before. Jahangir's library is the ideal instance of the engine that has powered a knowledge based farming community. Like the education and agro-entrepreneur Jahangir, if at least one individual comes forward from each of our 70,000 villages, then, very soon, the dream of a truly illuminated Bangladesh will become a reality.