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A teenager and her ‘library’ are changing lives in a small village

26 April, 2021 18:24:54
A teenager and her ‘library’ are changing lives in a small village

When you educate one person you can change a life
When you educate many you can change the world
~ Rahila Khatun 

Ashina is a nondescript village in Falta, South 24 Parganas, barely 50 kilometers from Kolkata. Most of its residents are zari artisans, tailors and farmers. While a majority are compelled to migrate to other states for a livelihood, the Covid-19 pandemic suddenly changed everything last year. Many villagers lost their jobs and were stranded at their place of work. Razzak Sheikh was in Hyderabad when the nationwide lockdown was announced, desperately trying to return to Ashina. Simultaneously, the Class 9 dropout also decided to mobilise social media and seek help for the hapless residents of his village. Priyam Basu and Jyotishko Das promptly extended a helping hand, supplying rations to the village regularly.

Once the books arrived, Rahila had to figure out what to do with them. And she turned to her mother, Fatemah Biwi, her pillar of strength in all her endeavours. Fatemah herself had studied until Class 8, but her formal education had come to an abrupt end following her marriage to Moizeddin Sheikh.

On asking the villagers if they needed any other kind of help, the two came up against bright young Rahila Khatun, a Class 12 student of Nabasun Tushtucharan High School. The lockdown and its impact on the education of children in her village had been bothering Rahila for a while. She had even discussed the problem with her uncles, Razzak Sheikh, Hassan Sheikh and Asghar Ali. Now, she told Jyotishko and Priyam that she would like them to please send school text and guidebooks so that children could continue with their education. The duo was only too glad to oblige, and with help from friends and acquaintances, collected a fair number of textbooks.

Once the books arrived, Rahila had to figure out what to do with them. And she turned to her mother, Fatemah Biwi, her pillar of strength in all her endeavours. Fatemah herself had studied until Class 8, but her formal education had come to an abrupt end following her marriage to Moizeddin Sheikh. Of her three children, her eldest son migrated to Dubai in search of a job and has been stranded there ever since the lockdown. Her daughter Rahila began her schooling at Makhna High School, passed her Madhyamik with flying colours, and is now a student of Humanities. 

“We wanted school dropouts to continue their education, which is a really urgent requirement now,” says Rahila, speaking exclusively to GB. “We have been fighting tooth and nail to keep school dropouts engaged in some form of education.

When Rahila needed help storing the books, Fatemah spoke to her husband and they decided to give up one of the two rooms in their ramshackle house. Thus in July 2020 was launched ‘Ashina Gramin Library’. The family, comprising five adults, somehow manage to share one room with the entire household strewn around them, but no regrets. Not surprisingly, Rahila credits her mother for all her confidence.

“We wanted school dropouts to continue their education, which is a really urgent requirement now,” says Rahila, speaking exclusively to GB. “We have been fighting tooth and nail to keep school dropouts engaged in some form of education. These children had to leave school because of financial constraints – unable to attend online classes on smartphones and other devices. They even depend on schools for their textbooks.” 

Once her homegrown library was functional, however, Rahila and her friends realised that without some guidance, merely providing books would not help. Once again, the village stepped up. College students volunteered to teach school students, and graduates who taught private tuitions offered to take weekly classes at the library.

For those wishing to send financial or other help, the particulars are:
Village: Ashina
Post Office: Makhna
Police Station: Falta
District: South 24 Parganas

There are 11 members, including Rahila, who constitute the core committee that manages the library. Runa Khatun, who wishes to become a college professor, is library-in-charge. Yet another regular teacher is Arjina Khatun, a third-year college student. Most of the books are school books. In fact, there are only five story books. The library also holds coaching classes for students of classes 9 to 12, four days a week. Almost 20 students have been attending these classes, both regular students and dropouts. Exercise books, pens and pencils are distributed free of cost. Everyone follows COVID-19 protocol strictly. They wear masks and everyone has to wash their hands with soap and water before they enter.

Clearly, Rahila has realised what learned minds have been trying to teach us through the centuries - that education is the backbone of any society. Her family’s financial condition may have prevented from studying science, but she is still determined to study General Nursing and Midwifery, a diploma course for aspirants wishing to make a career in clinical nursing.

Clearly, Rahila has realised what learned minds have been trying to teach us through the centuries - that education is the backbone of any society. Her family’s financial condition may have prevented from studying science, but she is still determined to study General Nursing and Midwifery, a diploma course for aspirants wishing to make a career in clinical nursing. Her mother Fatemah is equally determined that her daughter must study further. “I don’t want my daughter to sacrifice her life just because she is a girl. She must study and work just like any boy,” she asserts.

Rahila’s library is now a place of hope for people in the village. Students from neighbouring villages have started visiting too. The library now has 200 members, Rahila says. She is hopeful of expanding the project, provided she receives the support she needs. 

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