About three decades ago, Lokman Ali of Baroghariya Adarshapara village in Lalmonirhat’s Aditmari upazila had lost his land and other belongings to the river Teesta, but his passion for education and literacy remained the same.
Taking shelter at a neighbour’s land and doing all sorts of odd jobs, first, he educated all four of his children. Then, he launched the noble task of educating the children of his village, located in a char (sandy land) of the Teesta river in Lalmonirhat.
At 63, Lokman spends about six hours every day tutoring children, voluntarily, and another six checking on his student’s performance and creating awareness about education among the villagers.
“I became interested in teaching the children of the ultra-poor families in the Teesta char, after I succeeded in providing proper education to my own children,” said Lokman, who studied up to the eighth grade and could not continue his studies due to lack of educational opportunities in the region at that time.
“After getting my own children educated successfully, I realised that their education alone cannot bring any change in this char. To bring change, it is necessary to spread the light of education among all the children of the area,” he said.
To date, Lokman’s village in Aditmari’s Mahishkhocha union does not have any school, carpeted road or electricity.
Most of the villagers depend on agriculture and the literacy and dropout rate are similar to shoal villages of Teesta, 25 percent and 40 percent, respectively, according to Lalmonirhat district primary education office.
Lokman made sure his offspring do not become part of that statistic.
In 1992, he lost his homestead, arable land and fruit orchard to Teesta’s erosion. Then, his wife left him with four children and divorced him three years later, said Lokman’s octogenarian mother, Nabiun Bewa, who lives with her son.
“But the series of events did not break Lokman’s spirit. Instead of remarrying, he focused his attention on his children’s education,” she said.
His determination paid off. Today, his daughter is a college lecturer, the eldest son, a doctor in Rajshahi, the second son is studying in Dhaka to join the civil service and the youngest is an undergraduate student in Kurigram.
“We often had to go hungry for days but my father did not stop us from studying. Finally, he won in his mission because today we are all doing well in our respective fields,” said Lokman’s daughter Latifa Begum, lecturer of Lalmonirhat Nechhariya Kamil Madrasa.
She said her father has the option to relax and enjoy his life now as his children bear his expenses. Instead, he chose the noble task of enlightening society through education, she added.
“My children give me about Tk 3,000 per month. I spend half of it for my own living expense and save the rest to buy educational materials for the village children,” said Lokman, who prefers an austere living.
Rumi Akhter Shimu, a fifth grader at Gobordhan Char Government Primary School located in another Teesta char, has been taking lessons from Lokman since Grade I.
“He loves us and teaches us well,” she said, claiming that she and the other children of the char are doing better at school with Lokman’s help.
Shimu’s father farm labourer Abdur Rashid said Lokman never charges anything for teaching his daughter rather often helps her by providing pens and copies, as needed.
The children start to arrive at Lokman’s place between 6:30am to 7:30am and take lesson till 10:00am. They come back in the afternoon around 4:00pm and studies until sunset.
Between 10:00am to 4:00pm, Lokman goes door to door talking to villagers about the importance of education and checking on the children’s school performance or need for educational materials.
He runs the tutoring classes in four tin-huts built on his neighbour Abdus Sobhan’s land, where he took shelter in 1992.
Headmaster of Gobordhan Char Government Primary School Kazi Shafiqul Islam said students taking lessons from Lokman were doing well in classes and exams.
“Lokman brings many dropouts back on track and he is taking care of them,” he said.
Abdus Sobahan, 62, who gave the five decimal land to Lokman, is proud of his neighbour’s achievement.
He said, “I own a lot of land but I didn’t educate my children much. On the other hand, landless Lokman succeeded in educating all four of his children and is now working to educate others.”
“Lokman is a rare example in our society. He did not build any tangible asset, rather he invested his life towards education,” said Rabiul Alam, assistant professor of Mahishkhocha School and College in Aditmari.
“My dream is to educate all the children of the Teesta chars. I want to see them succeed just like my own children did,” said Lokman.
“I do not believe in cessation. I have always started from the finish line and achieved success and I believe that the time to start is right now,” Lokman asserted, the hope for a well-educated Teesta char area reflecting in his eyes.