Babar Ali lives in Murshidabad, West Bengal. He attends the Raj Govinda School, which is 10km away. Every day he catches an auto-rickshaw part of the way and walks the rest. Babar Ali is the first person in his family to go to school. He is 16 years old.
At 14, Chumki Hajra has never been to school. Instead, she washes dishes and cleans houses for 200 rupees (£3) a month. If she does not work, her family will not survive. But now Chumki can go to school.
When he gets home at 4 o’clock each day, Babar Ali rings a bell. At first they came in a trickle, but now 800 children from poor families line up in the yard behind his house, for lessons from Babar Ali and 10 friends from his school. After singing the National Anthem, the students settle down to their studies. There is no charge and no trouble. Between her shifts, squeezed on a rough wooden bench with 12 others, by the light of 2 bulbs ( when the electricity holds), Chumki scribbles her notes and dreams of becoming a nurse.
Babar Ali is called the youngest headteacher in the world. He knows that without an education these children stand little chance. Babar Ali is a weaver of magic.
In some of the world’s poorest countries having a good education is as important as putting food on the table. Why is it, then, that in some areas of the so-called ‘developed world’, there is a declining respect for teachers and, paradoxically, in many of the poorest parts, a lack of belief in the value of education?
Magic-weaving is not new. From Socrates to Senge, from Confucius to Capello, from Mandela to Mother Teresa, great teachers have made the difference by touching lives, pushing back the boundaries and making the seemingly impossible, possible. Such magic often goes unappreciated but is indelibly etched on the hearts of those who experience it.
My work has led me to a point where literally thousands of people have described their school experience as pivotal to their development and the influence of a teacher as crucial to their success. We never forget that great teacher; the one who took us to places where we could not go alone; the one we came back to visit all those years later; the one who changed our lives by opening doors for us. It might have been a coach, a mentor, a friend, the biology teacher or mum and dad.
For Chumki Hajra it is Babar Ali.
Magic weavers are all around us. Who is yours?
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