This Kolkata man has devoted his youth to set up three schools to provide English medium education to children from slums. He continues to think of new projects to improve quality of life with unflagging zeal.
By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj
It was a personal loss for Kolkata’s Mamoon Akhtar that rekindled a pining for offering what he missed in his childhood to kids in a bustee of the eastern metropolis. Having been taken out of an English medium school for inability to afford education in an expensive school, Mamoon cherished a dream of setting up a school of his own where even poor children would be able to receive quality education. Nearly two decades later, he runs three schools with over 4,000 kids receiving an education that he himself could not have, but passionately desired.
Mamoon’s schools are located in Tikiapada, once a crime-infested locality in Howrah district. Kids played and fought in streets when they were supposed to be in schools. Widows and divorcees were routinely trafficked by gangs of criminals. For lack of education and skills, the youth had nowhere to look for jobs. Mamoon, one among the kids of a large family, was taken out of the English medium school by his father and enrolled in an Urdu medium school. This only lit a spark for better education and better quality of life in him and set him on a mission to change the destiny of an entire locality.
Though Mamoon continued his education till 12th standard in Urdu medium, he considered English to be the key to success. He set up an organization, Samaritan Help Mission in 1999 even while he was studying for his post-Matric classes. He started a tutorial in a room that his household people could spare for him during the evenings. He would impart a smattering of English to the kids. In 2003, he expanded the same facility after covering the leaky roof with a plastic sheet. Help from some youths in the locality enabled him to turn it into a school that ran three shifts. Donation of Rs. 10,000 by wife of US Consulate, Lee Allison Sibley, for his passionate commitment, boosted his morale.
In 2007, he could buy a little over 2,000 sq. feet of land in Tikiapara where he put up a building with Rs. 7 lakh, all mobilized through donations. In 2008, the structure was complete and a regular school was started from kindergarten to third standard. Upgrading every year, it became a matriculation school last year. It has now around 40 teachers and children attend the classes in smart uniform with pretty bags on their backs.
His next target was to rescue the women from criminal gangs by providing them some kind of vocational skills. He set up a tailoring school in the room from where the school had shifted. He bought 20 sophisticated Japanese Juki machines. Nearly 120 women are now being trained in there. They now find jobs in the burgeoning garment industry of Kolkata.
In 2014, he took a giant step by taking over IR Belilious Estate sprawling over two acres which earlier housed a school but had gone defunct. The Howrah Police who had found Mamoon’s work helpful in eliminating crime, helped him in acquisition of the estate and revive the school. Named Rebecca Belilious English Institution, it now has over 1,600 children, mainly from slums. It awaits recognition from the Government Secondary Education Board. Mamoon who was in Bengaluru on March 18 to receive the Social Service Award, told Islamic Voice that he has kept the fee low at Rs. 50 in order that everyone could afford the quality education.
Mamoon’s Samaritan Help Mission now also runs an Ambulance Service and a Sports Academy from the Estate where space has allowed him to take up more welfare services. He raises nearly Rs. 70 lakh every month through donations to meet the expenses. Yet he remains the same humble and amiable self who is accessible to everyone and betrays no element of having arrived on a high podium of achievement.
What is worth noting is that Mamoon’s work has been appreciated by people across all religious communities. Ms. Sibley was a Jewish lady. Ramesh Kacholia, a philanthropist from Mumbai and his Hindu friends regularly donate for his Trust. Another philanthropist Smt. Madhu Dusad from Delhi handed over a cheque of Rs. one crore. Mamoon says he could not believe his eyes when he saw the amount and reverted to her to confirm if it was meant for his Trust . American Federation of Muslim Indian (AFMI) too helped him in the initial years.
(Contact: Mamoon Akhtar, Founder-Secretary, Samaritan Help Mission, 127, Noor Md. Munishi Lane, Howrah-711101, Ph: 033-26381900, Cell: 93318-73584, 98367-77600).