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Spreading the light of literacy in a far-flung place

  • Published at 01:02 pm September 8th, 2016
Spreading the light of literacy in a far-flung place
As the sun came out, the changing light up the valleys misty, tree-clad slopes looked golden in the morning light. One man was seen at the hill-top, approaching down through a trail that appeared like a moving snake from a distance. He stopped at the end of the path, lifted up his worn out bag over his head and carefully started to cross a narrow ‘Jiri’ (Hill River) at front having strong current and sharp boulders. Crossing that with panache, he climbed another little hill on the other side to reach a pleasant plateau covered with green grass. A small one storied bamboo-built house with red roof-top was there in the raised ground. He stood in front of the house, drew a key out from his threadbare pant’s pocket and opened its gate. I watched the whole incidence from a little distance. It was very early in the morning and the ‘para’ (hill village) named ‘Shiplampi’ where I stayed last night (On our way to Tajindong) along with my trekking group was still asleep. I had a bad night sleep and I went out (from our night halt at village head’s house) to have some fresh air. I till didn’t know that the house with red roof-top was a school and the man who opened its gate was its lone teacher- Maijesh Tripura. Driven by curiosity, I went to that house. Inside of it, there were 10-12 wood benches, a blackboard, a map of Bangladesh, a picture of Jesus Christ and a medium sized cross hanging in the wall. The man-Maijesh Tripura was found kneeling in front of the cross, offering a silent prayer. I waited. Some moments later he stood up and looked at me. His cloths looked more tattered in close than it seemed from the distance. He had thin grey hair, a lean muscular body and monk-like smile. ‘Good Morning’, he greeted me. In birds eye view, it was a small, small house amid the vast greenery of Chittagong hill tracks. The nearest place with phone signal and electricity was about ten hour of trekking distance and the nearest village (Shiplampi) was inhabited by ‘Mro’ tribal, the most primitive one (both men and women are topless, a matriarchal tribe) in the country. Yet I was greeted with that!! Maijesh Tripura was indeed a unique person. He was originally from Sherkorpara, a village of Tripura tribe. Unlike other hill people, he wanted to do something different than ‘Jhum’ (slash and burn cultivation) or hunting. “Early in my childhood, I went to Saikotpara (a village of Bom tribe) with my uncle. There I saw that a Christian NGO opened a school in the village. I wanted to study there but my parents didn’t allow me then as we had no relative in that village”, he told me in good Bengali, unlike other hill people. “But by seeing the Bom people, I realized one thing then that if we- the Tripura tribe don’t get literate and don’t get to speak and write in Bengali like them, we could never be prosperous. I realized that there is alternative but to get educated”, he said. “So I persuade my parents and went to the school in Saikotpara. I was taught Bengali, a little English and mathematics there. A father (priest) there at the Saikotpara School was pleased with my study and he enrolled me at the school in Thanchi Bazaar (one of the six upazilas of Bandarban). I passed SSC (then it was called Matriculation exam) exam from there” Maijesh Tripura told me that after passing his SSC exam, he decided to come back at Sherkorpara to establish a school. “The Karbari gave me a land; the villagers built a school house and sent their children. But the main problem that I had encountered was the lack of study materials. Most of the villagers were very poor and they could not afford books, pencils or khatas for their children. Also the study books were very rare even in Thanchi Bazaar”, he said. “I went back to Saikotpara and asked the Christian NGO to provide funding for my school. Few days later, it gave us the fund. It bought us the bench, blackboard and study materials. Now the school of Sherkotpara is a government registered primary school. It has six teachers who got monthly pay order (MPO) from the government. The Tripura tribe is also prosperous now as lots of the people from our village have various businesses in the Thanchi Bazzar”, he said. Maijesh could have easily stayed in the school of his own village and received the MPO. But he was from a different school of thoughts. “I wanted to spread the light of education among other tribes. Especially I wanted them to get educated. So I came here at Shiplampi. Mro tribe has the highest rate of illiteracy among all the tribes. I persuade the Karbari of Shiplampi and he gave me a piece of land here. The Christian NGO built the house and bought us the study material and I started the school”, he said. He said that he mainly teach Bengali here. “I also teach basic English and Maths right after the students have learned to read and write Bengali. After studying in this school, many students go to the primary schools of the Thanchi Bazaar and some of the large villages. I don’t take any money from anybody. I came here from Sherkorpara (a four hour trekking distance) thrice a week and ran the school. I have also opened another of such school in Kunchingpara of the Khumi tribe”, he said. It was about 8 am in the morning. Maijesh excused himself from the conversation for some minutes. He drove out a bell and rang it loud for a while. “Within 10 minutes the school will start”, he said. My friends had also waked up from their sleep. Some of them came at the school. We also needed to leave the Para and start trekking for that day to cover up the planned distance. But we waited for few more minutes to see what happened next. In a short while, a number of little tribal children came and the school had begun. “‘Au’ te auzogarti aslo tere. ‘Aa’ aamti ami khabo pere”- those familiar magical sounds of learning the alphabet of our beloved language that we fought for in 64 years ago have started to come out from that small school of the hilly terrain.
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