Good Samaritan taxi driver builds free primary schools, orphanage in remote Sundarban village

Poverty deprived him of primary school education, forget good higher education. But that did not deter him to pursue his dream of education – for others.

By Zaidul Haque,,

Kolkata/Joynagar: His parents were so poor they pulled him out of school at the age of seven. He went on to migrate to Kolkata to earn a living by begging. After driving a rickshaw for many years, he then shifted to driving a passenger taxi.

And finally, after years of struggle and reaching a financially stable position through his taxi driving, he opened a primary school to ensure as many children as possible are provided free education and not pulled away by their parents for lack of money.

Taxi Driver Jalaluddin Gazi
Taxi Driver Jalaluddin Gazi

Taxi driver Mohammad Jalaluddin Gazi, 62, donated his homestead to establish ‘Ismail Israfil Free Primary School’ in 1998 at his village northeast Thakurchak under Joynagar police station of South 24 Parganas district. The place is about 60 kms from Kolkata.

The dream of educating the rural poor drives him so hard, Jalaluddin not just spends whatever he earns by driving his cab, he also tops it up with pleas, or sometimes begging, for donation to his passengers or general members of the public.

After the first school, he went on to build ‘Qurania Ali Hossain Abu Noor Uloom’ in 2002 on about six katta homestead land. It imparts education from kindergarten to class 4 at primary school along with a ‘Quarnia Madrassa’ only for learning Quran along with school studies. The school has almost 200 students, maximum of them coming from poor families and maximum of them Muslim.

Jalaludin's Taxi where written appeal to donate to his School and Orphanage
Jalaludin’s Taxi where written appeal to donate to his School and Orphanage

And the best part is – that’s what Jalaluddin claims – his entire family is devoted for the cause of the school. His family stays in the school premises.

The satisfaction – and also the realisation of the demand – prompted Jalaluddin to build yet another primary school ‘Sundarban Shikshyatan’ in 2009, about two kms from the existing school. The latest feather on his cap: An orphanage-school ‘Sunderban Orphanage Mission II Free primary School’ that was inaugurated on January 18 and will be run for students of the orphanage only.

Personal struggle, days of agony and then light:

The dream to educate his people in the remote Sunderbans is a challenge and equally an ambition for Jalaluddin as he himself had to drop out of the primary school and lost the possibility of good education due to poverty. “I don’t want any of the children from my village and the neighbouring villages to face the same problems that I faced,” he says.

Students of `Sunderban Shikshyatan' at North-East Thakurchak Village of South 24 Parganas.
Students of `Sunderban Shikshyatan’ at North-East Thakurchak Village of South 24 Parganas.

“At the age of seven, I was promoted to class three as I was a bright student. I got the first rank in the class too. But my parents were so poor, they could not afford books. We were a large family – five brothers and two sisters. Forget books, many a times, we did not even have food,” Jalaluddin recounts the days of agony that later propelled him to start his social activities.

“I knew I loved to study, I wanted good education, I wanted to pursue higher studies. But I realised nothing could be done … I had first to earn a living. There was no one to financially support my education.”

Ismail Israfil Free primary school at North-East Thakurchak Village of South 24 Parganas.
Ismail Israfil Free primary school at North-East Thakurchak Village of South 24 Parganas.

At the young age itself he went to the nearest railway station Dakshin Barasat and from there, took a train to Sealdah railway station. Living on a footpath, he started begging. Later, in the early 70s, he became a rickshaw puller and also moved to another footpath in front of Entally Market, an area near Sealdah station. When he got married, he shifted to Fulbagan Road at a rented slum, very happy after years on footpath to find a place he could call his home.

A good organiser from a very young age, Jalaluddin clubbed this ability with his social engagements. He formed the ‘Mehanati Unnyana Samity’ with the rickshaw pullers of Entally area as members. He then started bringing youths from his village and facilitating them to earn livelihood through rickshaw pulling. “By this time, I had already started sending home money for my parents and siblings. This inspired other youth from my area to do the same for their families,” he says with a brimming smile.

Students celebrating Republic day.
Students celebrating Republic day.

Sometime in 1981 during rickshaw pulling, he came in touch with a taxi driver who boarded his rickshaw as a passenger. Talking with Jalaluddin, the taxi driver convinced him to change the profession. The taxi driver not just promised, but actually taught Jalaluddin to drive and within a month, he was driving a car very smoothly. He then went on to get a license and take up profession of the taxi driver. His earning increased pretty well.

Just as he brought scores of youth from his village and facilitated them to be rickshaw pullers, he started bringing and encouraging youth to be taxi drivers. He also came up with a taxi syndicate ‘Sunderban Driving Samity’.

Mid-day Meal of the students of Ismail Israfil Free primary school at North-East Thakurchak Village of South 24 Parganas.
Mid-day Meal of the students of Ismail Israfil Free primary school at North-East Thakurchak Village of South 24 Parganas.

Once his earnings increased, he felt the time was right to build a school. He convinced his family members to initially start a primary school in his homestead land where they are living in small huts. He started saving money for the school and also started proposing every passenger to donate something for the school that will “educated poor students in remote Sundarban village.” As luck favoured him, lots of passengers did indeed extend a helping hand.

Jalaluddin drove a single taxi for almost 25 years. He then proposed the owner to sell it to him in installments. The owner knew of his efforts at running a school. He agreed and sold it to Jalaluddin. After a ban on vehicles more than 15 year old, he replaced the taxi with a new one.

`Literary Hero' award certificate to Jalaluddin by Rotary South Asian Mission.
`Literary Hero’ award certificate to Jalaluddin by Rotary South Asian Mission.

The first thing that he did when he bought his own taxi was to paint it with following message: ‘The earning by the taxi no WB04E4753 used for the students of Sunderban Orphange School. I urge traffic police not to register any case against this taxi. Regards, taxi driver Gazi Jalaluddin. M: 9735562504.’ And not just this, he also started approaching passenger to become life member of the school by donating a small amount.

After the humble beginning with the first school started in 1998, there are now more than 200 hundred students with him. He has engaged eight teachers and other non-teaching staff.

Jalaluddin with his wife Taslima.
Jalaluddin with his wife Taslima.

“My wife Taslima very much inspired me to run this school. She too had not received education due to poverty. Now my son Israfil is the head of the institution,” he says.

In 2011, he formed the ‘Sunderban Orphanage and Social Welfare Trust’. He is the secretary of the Trust with Captain Aziz Ahmed Siddique as chairman.

Jalaluddin shows the future building plan of his school.
Jalaluddin shows the future building plan of his school.

After the first efforts of his own school, charity of his passengers helped build the ‘Sundarban Shikhyatan’ in 2009. Arun Kumar Dube, one of the passengers, after knowing his dream, bought and donated 11 katta land to the Trust. Jalaluddin, his wife and son too donated two katta land each. His other donors include Sultan Arefin and Jahir Hossain Mondal.

All his schools regularly serve mid-day meals – including chicken once in a week – with the cost borne out by Trust as the government does not have a provision of helping such schools through financial assistance. Aziz bears a part of the meal.

Sunderban Orphanage Mission (Primary School)  at North-East Thakurchak Village of South 24 Parganas.
Sunderban Orphanage Mission (Primary School) at North-East Thakurchak Village of South 24 Parganas.

The plan:

But how easy – or basically, how hard – is it to run schools in this manner? Every day, someone or the other gives positive response with most passengers donating Rs 50 at least, if not more.

“We appeal to the kindhearted people, social activist to purchase a taxi and donate to the Trust. The total income from the taxi will be used for the schools and the orphanage. This message is painted on the body of the cabs,” he says, adding, “This enables creation of few jobs of Taxi driver also.”

Pointing out how the areas surrounding his village are Muslim dominated and educationally more backward than other similar areas, Jalaluddin says: “When all the children will go to schools, we will arrange it, only then my dream will succeed.”

He got a great prestigious honour from Rotary South Asian Mission. They honoured Jalaluddin as ‘Literary Hero’ on the occasion of South Asia Literary Summit held on December 15, 2013. But Jalaluddin says his best honour is already given by Almighty Allah. “By the grace of Allah, I am engaged in a work that enables me to educate people. My inspiration is the first Quranic word ‘Iqra’ – read,” says the five times Namazi.

His ambition now is to build Higher Secondary School for the under privileged.

Those wishing to help Mohammad Jalaluddin Gazi in his endeavour may contact him on +91-9735562504. Volunteers are welcome at his school and orphanage. Those who wish to contribute financially can donate to his Trust.

The banks details are as follows:

Sunderban Orphanage and Social Welfare Trust
A/C No: 1096011062636
Name of the Bank: United Bank of India
Branch: Mayukh Bhaban, Salt Lake, Kolkata 700091
Branch Code: MBHD62


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