Mohammad Bappy is a 22 year old from Mirpur, Kushtia, currently doing his diploma in Computer Engineering at Ideal Polytechnic Institute. He is the founder of the Gorai Students Forum.
A journey which started on 20th March, 2007, when he was just 15, Bappy started with the vision of primarily tackling underage marriages in the region with financial aid from “Nari Uddag Kendra”.
He explains, “People here are still not aware of the physical, mental and legal implications of underage marriage and it is still very prevalent. Thankfully, due to God’s grace and the hard work of my co-members, we have been able to stop over 40 such marriages so far.”
Generating awareness of the adverse implications of underage marriage though, was just the beginning for a much more elaborate undertaking.
“We wanted to help out women and children who have been abused and introduce them to the concept of human rights; make sure they get decent jobs and hopefully become good citizens.”
He elaborates: “See, as a child, my father married another woman without even divorcing my mother, because — to my father — my mother was not very pretty; not to mention she would often get mistreated and physically abused by my father.”
But that’s not where the problems end: “I used to and sometimes still get mistreated by my parents, especially my stepmother. That gave me the motivation and desire to start GSF, to ensure that similar incidents do not occur.”
“So far, up to 60 widows and women whose husbands have abandoned them, are being provided food, shelter and necessary training to get a fresh start with our aid. Of these 60, 20 have been able to get proper jobs based on their merits,” adds Bappy.
From small beginnings, the journey has seen a lot of hardships and setbacks. None bigger than in December 2011 when GSF filed a case against a local political party member’s cousin (whose name Bappy does not want to reveal) for raping a disabled girl.
“They came over to our area threatening me and my father, grabbing me by my neck and shoving me; they said that they would set fire to our house if we further intervened.”
But that incident did not deter him, rather it spurred him on to fight even harder for human rights and move into taking care of orphans.
“By 2012 we were taking care of 45 orphans; giving them necessary food, shelter and education through donations.”
Currently, GSF consists of 9 wards with committees and they have over 600 people receiving their aid, of whom 200 are women.
“Although we have grown in numbers, I have not gotten GSF registered because the registrar asked for a 20 thousand taka bribe, which I absolutely do not want to give,” Bappy exclaims.
Bappy talks about his goals with the GSF for the immediate future: “The plan is to get the orphans proper education and ensure that they can fend for themselves with decent jobs when they are old enough. Giving all 60 women jobs is also high among the priorities.”
“See, outside the cities, the education methods are still very archaic. Students lose interest in studies quickly and those who stick with it really don’t find much practical use later on. This needs to change and I really want to make a difference here,” he says.
Even though GSF has become what it is today, they still do not get enough funds to be able to buy a computer to help the students learn through better and easier means. “I myself don’t have a PC because I simply cannot afford one.”
He goes on, “To be very honest I started this by taking money from my father, which was supposed to be used for my studies. Hopefully one day I’ll be in a position to be able to afford one. You just can’t put into words the feel-good factor when you are helping those in need. ”
PC or no PC, Bappy’s story is one that needs to be heard and appreciated. Not many 22-year-olds have achieved what he has, especially given that he’s not received the best of opportunities. One can only hope that more and more young people like Bappy step up to ensure a better future for those in need.
*This article has previously been published in www.thedailystar.net