As many graduates of village schooling know, studying by the light of a kerosene lamp is not ideal. While in more recent years solar has arrived, for the poorest families solar panels can prove cost prohibitive. But in three villages of Joypurhat's Panchbibi upazila, even students from the poorest families routinely study under the brighter, solar powered tube lights, thanks to the philanthropic kindness of one woman.
Meftahul Jannat Likhan grew up in Bandighi village in Joypurhat's Kalai upazila and was married while she studied in class VII. She knows about disruption to study.
These days she resides in Iraqnagar of Joypurhat town where her daughter time to time suffers in her schooling from power shortages. “When the electricity goes, it's disturbing for my daughter,” says Likhan, “It made me properly consider the difficult circumstances facing students from those families which, since the country's independence, have never had electricity at home.”
Indeed in the three villages of Panchbibi that Likhan has taken under her wing, there are many such families. The villages are remote and beyond the national grid.
It is not only her home life that turned Likhan's thoughts to the value of electricity to students. Four years ago she established a solar power sales centre called Mega Solar Super Power House in Joypurhat town, and she found that many people from remote areas visited her shop every day with dreams of owning a solar panel. But for many the prices were out of reach.
“Many villagers walk away empty-handed when they hear the prices,” she says.
Likhan decided that at least for some she could do something to help: two years ago on her own initiative she installed solar panels in Khasbatra village of Panchbibi. Subsequently, she installed panels in two neighbouring villages -- Hathatpara and Rasulpur -- as well.
“So far, 148 of the poorest families in the three villages have free connections,” says Joypurhat municipality Mayor Mostafizur Rahman Mostaque. “It's courtesy of Meftahul Jannat Likhan.”
The system is designed in such a way that from several larger solar plants connections bring electricity to individual residences. “Initially it was enough for a light only, in each home,” says Likhan whose thoughts have always centred on students' homework.
Naturally, the villagers who have benefited from her generosity are elated. According to the chairman and local council members who helped install the systems, village children are reading books more often and with greater enthusiasm thanks to the better illumination.
“We even save on kerosene costs!” laughs householder Rubina of Hathatpara.
The gift of electricity is especially welcome given that for the past 45 years politicians have routinely pledged to connect the area to the Bangladesh Power Development Board's grid, but inevitably failed to deliver.
“Her efforts are well-appreciated,” says Joypurhat journalist Momen Moony who visited the villages recently. Nowadays, the three villages are collectively called “Solargram”, the solar village, says Moony.
It is an initiative Likhan says came from her inner heart, from concern that the children of the poorest families should have fair opportunity to pursue their school careers. “Children can be so demoralised if they are trying to study without electricity,” she says. “I hope to provide electricity to more villages in the future!”
But of course even with the brightest solar light, reading cannot proceed without books. To this end, last month, Likhan visited her Solargram with bundles of children's books to be distributed for free.