The high point of 24-year-old Md Amzad Hossain's life was the day he was accepted to study Bangla at Dhaka University. “When the professor assured me that, having passed both the written exam and interview, I could study my favourite subject I was happier than ever before,” he says.
University admission in one's chosen subject will likely bring a smile to a student's face, but for Amzad it was a milestone of particular triumph, not only for his family's insolvency but because Amzad is blind.
His father Md Rafiqul Islam is a struggling farmer from Chadukhola village in Brahmanbaria's Kashba upazila. Rafiqul along with his wife Bakul Begum held little hope for their son when Amzad lost his sight at age two. “We thought he would be a lifetime burden on his siblings,” Rafiqul says.
Amzad had other ideas. At age six he memorised all the poems and short stories from his older siblings' school texts, by listening to their recitations. He pleaded to be sent to school.
Amzad's eagerness forced his family to re-evaluate his abilities. Fortunately, an uncle took the initiative to admit him to a community-based rehabilitation programme, Assistance for Blind Children, in Comilla. There, under the instruction of lawyer Sultan Ahmed, Amzad learned to read Braille. Subsequently he was admitted to Comilla's Luthfunnessa Government Primary School.
“Be careful what you wish for,” goes the saying, “You just might get it.” On his first day in the classroom, after wishing for it for so long, he was nervous. “My heart was shaking,” he says, “but my teacher Kamrun Afroza was supportive. It was a great relief!”
Nonetheless, to study was not without challenges. In particular, he recalls, sudden changes to his syllabus would impact him, as it was not easy to obtain revised study materials in Braille. Yet, he persevered.
Amzad proved to be a capable student. In 2013, he completed his high school at Comilla Victoria Collegiate School. Two years later he achieved a GPA of 4.58 in humanities in his HSC at Victoria College.
“When I visited Amzad in Comilla,” says his father, “I felt so proud! Everybody knew my son as a good human being. For him, they even honoured me.”
Amzad is now in his fourth semester at Dhaka University. Life at Mohsin Hall took some adjustment but Amzad found people helpful, particularly Bangla lecturer Jashim Uddin, one of several to tell Amzad to call for any problem. The organisation “Aponjon” assists with his living costs.
“I'll not forget,” he says, “my classmate Sayma Afsana Atul onde day gave me a recording of her class notes in her own voice to help me study. She often does that.”
But the day he really felt a part of the Bangla department was Pahela Baishakh, the Bengali New Year, last April when his public recital of the folksong “Manush Dhoro Manush Bojho” was warmly received.
He lists Atul, Arif and Riaz as university friends who, along with Sayma, are particularly helpful; and effectively it was not only him they help.
Amzad has become an inspiration to others. Parvez Hossain, from Brahmanbaria and an SSC examinee, Yeasin Hossain, from Noakhali and a year away from completing HSC, are two the at least 10 visually-impaired students Amzad knows who find in his achievement a gateway to their own.
For other blind students Amzad has advice: “Focus on your own enthusiasm. Don't make sudden decisions based on what others say. Be flexible and ready to interact with everybody.”
As for families, Amzad says blind children learn in the same way as any child, from the environment around them. He suggests that families with visually-impaired children create a good learning environment at home and encourage whatever activity most interests their child.
“I realise now that every family with a blind child should send them to school,” says Rafiqul, “Education for visually-impaired people is essential.”
Amzad believes that if the government took steps to make optical character recognition software for reading online documents more affordable, it would go a long way in helping visually-impaired students complete their studies.
“After graduation, I plan to return to Comilla to start a business,” Amzad says, “perhaps a boutique.” If the past is any measure, few can doubt his ability to build whatever future he wants.