Monday, December 28, 2009

A Remarkable Battle Against Poverty and Illiteracy: The Youngest Headmaster

"... ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country." - John F. Kennedy

Most often, we listen to great speeches, applaud but never take home anything from the speech. The moment I read the story of the youngest headmaster in the world, a speech delivered by John F. Kennedy, in January 1960, echoed in my mind. In the speech, JFK called on his fellow Americans to focus more on what they can do for their country; not what their country can do for them. A young man in Murshidabad, West Bengal, India, is doing what he can do for his country and inspiring young people around the world, in the process.

Have you heard about the 16-year-old Babar Ali? The teenager is in charge of teaching hundreds of poor children, in his family's backyard. Around the world, millions of children are not getting education because their families are too poor to send them to school. In India, Babar Ali is transforming the lives of hundreds of such children, through a remarkable education project in his village.

Babar Ali is a schoolboy who understands that many less previleged children have a burning desire to learn amid poverty. He is a student in the Raj Govinda School - a free government-run school. Students in the school only have to pay for their uniforms, books, and in some cases, a ride to school. In Babar Ali's case, he lives 10km (6 miles) away. Hence, he takes an auto-rickshaw ride to school. His education cost 1,500 rupees a year ($40). In West Bengal, and in many parts of the world, that is a lot of money. Consequently many families cannot afford to send their children to school, even when it's free.

The 16-year-old has made it his mission to help hundreds of poor children in his village get basic education. How does he do it? After school, Baba Ali dashes off home to share what he has learnt with the children in his village. At 4 o'clock every afternoon, he surmones children into the yard behind his family house. Every day, the children line up, sing the national anthem, get lectures about discipline from the headmaster - Baba Ali, then study begins.

How does this concern you? This story strikes a code because many of us are more privileged than the young Babar Ali. But for some reason, we do not give back to our communities. Some of us come from poor societies but once we make our way into "greener pastures" we forget the society and the poor people we left behind. I have heard many people say they'd NEVER return to their countries until things change. This boggles my mind. When would things change? Who would effect the change we expect to see in our countries?

Today, Barbar Ali has over 800 students in his "school." The question is, what are you doing for your country?

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