This is a guest blog by Zaki Hasan, Room to Read's founding country director for Bangladesh.
Every morning I rush to the office with renewed energy, knowing that Room to Read’s literacy and girls’ education programs are helping to provide a better education to nearly 100,000 children per year in my country. The faces of those children, whom I often meet on visits to the field, and of their families are my primary motivation. I am lucky to be part of an incredible team—both here in Bangladesh and internationally—that includes partner organizations, government ministries and colleagues, all of whom are dedicated to making a difference in the lives of children.
As we marked the fourth birthday of Room to Read Bangladesh this summer, the entire team was extremely proud of the recognition we have received this far. Our success has been abundant, but just as I started to reflect on those moments, another surprising recognition came my way: the prestigious 2012 Eisenhower Fellowship.
Although I never applied directly for the fellowship, a past recipient of the award from Bangladesh had proposed my name, having heard of my work with Room to Read. The fellowship turned out to be a wonderful experience, including a seven-week trip around the United States with 21 other leaders from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
We spent the trip discussing leadership, social entrepreneurship and education, and I couldn’t help but think one thought throughout the weeks: what experience is it that has led me to be in such company?
The more I thought about it, the more one answer became clear. The single enabling factor for me to become an Eisenhower Fellow is a decision that my mother made when I was in the ninth grade.
With three children between 9th and 11th grade, my mother was left to care for us alone when my father passed away from a heart condition. She was in deep trouble, as my father had always been the only earning member of the family. My uncles advised her to move to a village where we could work in their shops, but she already knew about the power of education. After all, my own father had been the first ever postgraduate from his village.
In the end, my mother decided to stay in the city where we could have access to a better education—putting our wellbeing above her own. With a monthly pension of around $30, it was extremely difficult for us to live in the capital, but by working part-time jobs while in school and with the help of neighbors, I managed to complete my education and earn a university degree.
My mother’s single decision to put education first for her children changed my world, and has allowed me today to be recognized by the Eisenhower Fellowship Committee as a leader from South Asia. My education has also allowed me to make the most of this incredible opportunity—to share ideas and learn from the other fellows, and discuss potential partnership.
Because all of my past and future accomplishments were made possible by education, that is where my contribution to society will always remain: working with children, parents and teachers to help them continue down the challenging but rewarding path of education.
I started the seven weeks of the Eisenhower Fellowship proud of the recognition I was to recieve and I have retuned more motivated than ever to provide the children of Bangladesh with a second chance in like through quality education.
Learn more about Room to Read's work in Bangladesh.