Won’t back down, no matter the cost
An utter tragedy struck 13 years ago. Still only a ninth-grader, Rajshahi's Sheuli Akter was married off owing to her family's unimaginable struggle with poverty.
It only got worse. Soon after her marriage, she was ousted from her in-laws' house, as she was made to choose between them or her education. Persistent and full of grit, she chose the latter.
At that time, both a kilo of flour and a notebook cost Tk 10. If we bought flour, my education would have been hindered, so my mother chose to buy notebooks over our bread.
Her hardship eventually bore fruit as Sheuli, overcoming all barriers of poverty, child-marriage and abuse, became a doctor by achieving an MBBS from Barind Medical College in Rajshahi in January.
Talking to this correspondent, Sheuli said she developed her enthusiasm for education during her time at Sardaha Government Primary School. "I was fond of watching boys and girls studying at school and the way they spoke. I wanted to be just like them."
Sheuli learned that only the brightest students studied at the school and insisted her mother enrolled her there. Her mother soon took her to a private tutor.
"I noticed the private tutor offered my mother a broken chair to sit on and treated her differently than others. I don't know how she made him agree to teach me," Sheuli said.
Sheuli's father, Zahangir Hossain, could barely afford his family of seven earning a meagre sum from a tea stall.
"At that time, both a kilo of flour and a notebook cost Tk 10. If we bought flour, my education would have been hindered, so my mother chose to buy notebooks over our bread."
She caught the attention of her teachers when she obtained stipend in fifth and eighth grades.
Yet her father married her off to Rashidul Islam, a bulb seller, in 2009 when she was appearing for the ninth-grade second term examination. "I cried a lot. But later realised that my husband was kind towards me," she said.
She thought the food crisis would be over at her in-laws' house. But they opposed her education from the start, and wagered her access to food if she continued.
"They gave us a choice, either I stop my education or we leave their house. My husband took me out of his parents' house to support me," she told this correspondent, sitting at their rented house in the city's Meherchandi, where they live with their only son.
After she passed HSC in 2013, Md Shamsuddin, managing director of Barind Medical College, offered her free education at the college and her husband a job at the hospital.
Contacted, Md Shamsuddin, father of state minister for foreign affairs Mohammad Shahriar Alam, said his son had financed her education, with Sheuli being one of 30 beneficiaries.