For Zakaria Hossain, 24, of Dakkhin Sonakhuli village in Nilphamari's Dimla upazila, the path to higher education wasn't smooth. Like many he faced the financial struggle of belonging to an ultra poor family. Nor is he alone in having lost a father at a young age. But in 2007, in the final days of preparation for his Higher School Certificate exams, Hossain was suddenly confronted by an unexpected, seemingly insurmountable new hurdle: he lost his eyesight.
Fate would have it that the capable student, who had achieved an A-plus result in his Secondary School Certificate, was hit in the eyes by a stray cricket ball.
At first there was hope that with surgery in India's Chennai, Hossain's eyesight might be restored. Thanks to his elderly mother's efforts the accident was reported in the Bangla Daily Prothom Alo, and many people generously offered support to facilitate the surgery that the family otherwise could not have afforded. Unfortunately, despite the treatment Hossain's eyesight could not be saved.
Yet the keen student did not lose his thirst for knowledge. When neighbouring Jaldhaka upazila press club president, Golam Mostofa, currently a ruling party lawmaker, offered to help Hossain access the services of a rehabilitation centre for the blind run by the non-government organisation RDRS, Hossain readily agreed. He was determined to pass his HSC even if it meant learning first to read Braille.
It took him three years but through perseverance and conscientious study at Lalmonirhat Government College, Hossain prevailed. In 2010, with HSC in hand, he decided to enrol in a BSS degree course at the same institution.
Prothom Alo meanwhile, recognising Hossain's talent as a student and inspired by his determination, started contributing 2,500 taka per month to help his family cover the cost of his studies.
Just last month Hossain graduated with first class results, a rare distinction.
“He might be visually impaired,” says Lalmonirhat Government College teacher Ashraful Alam about Hossain, “but as a student he has proved himself really talented. He can go a long way in life with a little support from society.”
Characteristically, Hossain like his teacher is thinking less about where has been and more where he will go. “I want to enrol in a Master's programme at Dhaka University,” he says, “but I'm unsure how to manage the expenses.” At the current time the family's main income comes from the meagre earnings of his elder brother who works as a day labourer.
“It's not that I want financial help,” says always ambitious Hossain, “I'd really like a part-time job to earn the cost of my education for myself.”
In the longer term Hossain hopes help other blind students to gain job skills and life skills and, most importantly of all, to be able to complete their education.
“Society often looks at the blind with pity,” he says, “I want to make them confident and, as much as possible, independent.”