World's Youngest Headmaster making remarkable changes in India
Babar Ali is the youngest headmaster in the world. As he is only 16! He’s a teenager who is in charge of teaching hundreds of students in his family’s backyard, where he runs classes for poor children from his village. The story of this young man from Murshidabad in West Bengal is a remarkable tale of the desire to learn amid the direst poverty. Our Bangladesh-based YL Volunteer Tanvir would like to introduce you to this extraordinary change maker.
Babar wakes up every morning at 7 and starts his day by doing some house hold chores. Then he takes an auto rickshaw first and later walks five kilometres to the “Cossimbazar Raj Govinda Sundari Vidyapeeth” where he is a class XII student. Babar is the thin and gangly boy who sits in the middle of the front row. Studious, smart and austere in his blue and white uniform, Babar is a model student. He is also the first member of his family to get a proper education.
In school he is an ideal student but it is what he doesafter his school hours that intrigue the entire world.
When every other teenager goes running off to the playground and gets busy with football cricket and other sports, Babar makes his way to an afternoon school where he is the headmaster of a school of 800 students.
Young learners of the school
Welcome to Babar Ali’s school…
It is a dilapidated concrete structure covered in half torn posters. Inside, in a tiny, dank room behind a desk, sits someone even the Queen of England knows by name, and you should too!
Behind the office is a gate that opens to Babar’s home. This is where rows of poor, underprivileged kids sit under the open, blue sky and learn what most children in the modern world pay hundreds of dollars for, for free. This is where 800 kids who are deprived from their basic right for education, walk miles to learn, free of cost, the basics and fundamentals of life.
So let’s take a minute over here and think. While we whine about our allowances and fuss about staying out late; this average boy from a small village, is actually helping to make this world a better place. Today, all around the world where millions of children are being deprived from literacy because their families cannot bear the expenses, this one school boy from India is trying to change that. And so at the age of 17 Babar Ali is the world’s youngest Headmaster!
Babar happens to be one of the fortunate souls in his village. In the Bhapta neighborhood of Gangapur Village in West Bengal’s Murshidabad, Babar lives with his three siblings and his parents in a thatched house which is the size of an average city kitchen. Yet, ironically, he is still among the privileged ones in his village, because unlike most children there, he went to school and got formal education. He was better off also in being the son of Nasiruddin Sheikh. Nasiruddin is a jute seller and a dropout who believes that education is man’s true religion, and who initially supported his son’s venture with his own income. Coming from a privileged family Babar realized he must do something for the other children in this village.
Even though their community provides free education to children, sending children to school is not entirely free of cost. Although the children are taught for free they still have to pay for uniforms, books etc. That is why a lot of families cannot afford to send their children to school. Thus instead of going to school most of the boys help out their families by working as mechanics, day laborers, grass cutters, live stock herders etc; whereas girls work as maid servants in the village where they cook, clean, wash clothes and dishes for their employers . Babar Ali wanted to change this. That is why he took the initiative of opening his very own school.
“Anand Siksha Niketan”
Babar Ali actually started his school at the mere age of nine! In fact, his school “Anand Siksha Niketan” grew out of a game.
“We used to play school-school, with me as teacher. My friends had never seen the inside of a school, so they enjoyed playing students. They ended up learning arithmetic and enjoying it.”, said Babar Ali while trying to explain how he initially started teaching. In 2002, the game got institutionalized, with the strength of eight.
So gradually word spread and the numbers grew. Help began to come from other quarters: Babar’s own teachers, monks at the local Ramakrishna Mission, sympathetic IAS officers, even local cops. When Babar first thought up a mid-day meal scheme, the rice came from his father’s fields, but now, with the aid of friends in the administration, it comes from government stock.
Today, nine years down the line, the school has 60 regular attendees and over 220 students on roll-call and 800 students in total, with 10 volunteer teachers teaching grades 1 through 8. His little afternoon venture is now registered and recognized by the West BengalStateGovernment, which means students graduating from Babar’s school are eligible to transfer to other local high schools.
When the children of the village and the localities nearby are done with their chores and jobs at day time, they run to attend Babar’s afternoon school. They arrive in time for Tulu Mashis opening bell.
Meet some pure, good, kind souls…
Clad in widow’s whites, stick in hand,Tulu Rani Hazra is an illiterate fishmonger by morning and a crusading educationalist by afternoon. On fish-selling rounds of nearby villages, her job is to confront erring parents who’ve stopped sending their children to school and to find new students. She has recruited 80 till now.
The teaching staff of nine is made up of high school student volunteers. They also, are average teenagers, who are helping out Babar in making a difference. The most educated, Debarita, goes to college in Behrampur.
Babar Ali gives lessons just the way he has heard them from his teachers. There is no building or establishment for his school. He teaches his students under the open sky. Some children sit in the mud, others on rickety benches under a rough, homemade shelter. The family chickens scratch around nearby. In every corner of the yard groups of children can be seen studying hard.
It’s much easier to enroll kids who are not old enough. So Class I and II have over 200 students. Class VIII has just 20 students. They study 10 subjects and are mostly taught by Babar and Debarita Bhattacharya. Debarita is another volunteer who has been helping out for a long time now.
Text books are free from class I to V, but for the rest money needs to be arranged. On any given day there are close to 400 students physically present in Babar’s front yard.
“Education dispels darkness. It’s the way to a better life around here,” says Imtiaz Sheikh, who’s in Class X. “That’s why I come to teach.”
It is hard to get the children to listen, being so young themselves. “The narrow age gap works to our advantage,” says Babar. “We are more like friends. The rod is spared in my school.”
So that’s all I got about Babar Ali for now. Getting to know about a person like him makes me realize how insignificant I am and yet again how lucky. And even though I finish my story here; Babar Ali’s story continues. He has not only helped out hundreds of children to get enlightened, he has also inspired millions of youths like us. Babar Ali’s tale is a testament to the difference that one person can make in his/her world. In this case, it was a mere child who decided to do something about a situation he felt was unfair.
His story also bears evidence to the fact that if you have a will then there surely is a way. That a 9 year old can alone change the world should be enough inspiration for all of us to come out of our closed cocoons and help make a difference. So isn’t it high time that we be the change that we want to see in this world? Today a Babar Ali; may be tomorrow it could be someone from among us.
And it is not very often that we come across someone like Babar Ali. Coming from a small village in Murshidabad he should be commended just for the audacity of hoping. It is this hope, and the faith that he has upon himself that has helped him come all this way. So here is to Babar Ali! We salute you for dreaming and making your dreams come true.