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Deprived of education, 65-year-old yellow cab driver runs two schools, orphanage in Sundarbans

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Sunderbans, Wikimedia

Kolkata, April 13, 2017: It’s been a bumpy ride for a 65-year-old yellow cab driver, Gazi Jalaluddin. A good student who was forced to give up formal education due to poverty, he now runs two schools and an orphanage in his native Sundarbans, ensuring a smoother journey for the underprivileged in a land at the mercy of the rivers.

“I don’t know how much longer I will be able to keep it up through driving. My two sons are also driving and help in the endeavour. There are 425 students in total. Since it’s run as a non-governmental organisation (Sunderban Orphanage and Social Welfare Trust) we do not have access to government funds. I have tried communicating with the local district administration about assistance but to no avail,” the bespectacled Gazi told IANS while taking a break from ferrying passengers.

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Gazi’s schools are located in the Joynagar area of the Sundarbans (in South 24-Parganas district), about 60 km from Kolkata.

With a 25-member staff — 21 are teachers — the schools are completely dependent on the income from taxi rides, donations from good samaritans and passengers who are considerate enough to offer some money when they learn of Gazi’s unique venture.

His cab proudly displays his mobile number (9735562504) and an appeal for help with the message: “This taxi’s total income is spent for the development of orphans mission, Sikkhyatan mission and IIPF school for the orphans. So kindly don’t give any traffic case against this taxi.”

Gazi divides his time between Narendrapur in South 24 Parganas and Joynagar in the Sundarbans area of the same district. Part of the week he spends at Narendrapur plying the cab and the rest back home in the Sundarbans.

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Citing his wife as an inspiration, Gazi revealed his family lives on the premises of one of the schools.

“I had to quit studies when I was seven years old. I had stood first in class two and was going to the next class. But my parents were unable to afford books; so I had to give up. That drove me to do something for the underprivileged,” Gazi reminisced without any pangs of remorse.

His dream of setting up a school finally took wing in 1998. But the road was not short and the journey was peppered with obstacles.

“I spent my boyhood begging on the streets of Kolkata and then I started plying rickshaws. Gradually I started driving a taxi. From 1980, I used to arrange books and clothes for children and ensure they went to school. I used to impart driving lessons to the youth to make sure they have a source of livelihood.

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“When I reached a financially stable position, I started a small primary school with 16 students in the plot of land I own. I gave up the plot (four to five kathas) for school use. That became bigger with the acquisition of more land and is now a school-cum-orphanage,” he explained.

Later on, through donations of land, he acquired around seven kathas from locals and passengers. This became the site for his second school.

“In both the schools, students are taught till Class 4 and in one we have recently introduced Madhyamik (Class 10 board exams under the West Bengal education board). My earnings through taxi rides is around Rs 450 (a day). The money that is left from food expenditure and maintenance of the vehicle goes to the schools.

“I want to expand the schools and target secondary and higher secondary education. I have faith in people and hope they come to our aid as poverty is still the root cause of unemployment and lack of education in the Sundarbans. Life is difficult for the people in the remoter areas due to natural disasters. Education will go a long way in helping them achieve self-sufficiency,” Gazi signed-off on his way to pick up another commuter. (IANS)

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More Science Careers: African School Of Physics on Mission To Educate New African Generation Through Traveling Program

"Science is increasingly recognized as an important engine of economic growth and societal advancement," she wrote in an email. She noted "increasing numbers of such programs on the African continent, where there is a surging young population entering the workforce."

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Africa
Ketevi Assamagan, a particle physicist at the U.S.-based Brookhaven National Laboratory, co-founded the African School of Physics, a training program for graduate students in math and sciences. (Photo courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory) VOA

Africa-born particle physicist Ketevi Assamagan is a man on a mission. His goal is to bring science education to a new generation of young Africans through a traveling program known as the African School of Fundamental Physics and Applications, or ASP.

“Sometimes, people just need some help to be able to find the right resources,” said Assamagan, an ASP founder who works at the U.S. Energy Department’s Brookhaven National Laboratory here on Long Island. “So, together with some colleagues, we decided to create this school.”

Born in Guinea, Assamagan grew up in Togo and earned a doctorate from the University of Virginia in 1995. Gratitude to past mentors fueled his desire to start the ASP, he said.

Positive elements

The ASP program runs for three weeks every two years in a different African country. The first was in 2010 in South Africa, with subsequent gatherings in Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda and Namibia. The next is planned for July 2020 in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Each workshop brings together up to 80 students, who are treated to intensive lectures and training by top-flight physicists.

Physicist Ketevi Assamagan demonstrates how a cloud chamber works. (A. Phillips/VOA)
Physicist Ketevi Assamagan demonstrates how a cloud chamber works. (A. Phillips/VOA)

“We get students from all over Africa [who] have at least three years of university education,” Assamagan said. “The majority of them are usually at the master’s level and they come from different fields: nuclear and high energy physics, medical applications, computing, mathematics and theoretical physics.”

The students’ expenses are covered by roughly 20 international sponsors, including the Brookhaven lab; the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy; the South African Department of Science and Technology; and Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics.

Another sponsor has been the European Center for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, in Geneva. Assamagan worked on CERN’s particle accelerator for several years while conducting research on the elusive Higgs boson subatomic particle. He left in 2001 to join Brookhaven.

Sustained support

After the program, participants are paired with senior mentors who offer advice on additional education, teaching and research opportunities, both in Africa and abroad.

For Zimbabwe native Last Feremenga, participation in the 2010 ASP workshop served as a springboard to a doctorate in physics from the University of Texas. Now he’s a data scientist with Digital Reasoning, an artificial intelligence firm headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

“I sift through large datasets of written text in search of rare forms of conversations/language. These rare conversations are useful for our clients from health care to finance,” the 32-year-old told VOA in an email. He added that he’s using “similar tactics” to those he learned at ASP.

Julia MacKenzie, senior director of international affairs for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, says training programs such as ASP are especially important in developing countries.

“Science is increasingly recognized as an important engine of economic growth and societal advancement,” she wrote in an email. She noted “increasing numbers of such programs on the African continent, where there is a surging young population entering the workforce.”

“A potential impact of graduate training is exposure to new ideas and people,” MacKenzie added. “Any time graduate students can come together, it’s likely that new friendships will form, and those relationships can provide support through inevitable challenges and spawn new collaborations.”

application learning
“We get students from all over Africa [who] have at least three years of university education,” Assamagan said. “The majority of them are usually at the master’s level and they come from different fields: nuclear and high energy physics, medical applications, computing, mathematics and theoretical physics.” Pixabay
Hands-on learning

Assamagan says that when he was in high school in Togo, science was taught from second-hand textbooks from abroad. There was no experimentation.

“Direct involvement … in terms of playing with things and getting mental challenge to try to figure it out was not really there,” he said. “We want to resolve that” through ASP.

The 70 or so science teachers at the workshop last year in Namibia learned hands-on experiments that could be replicated with scant equipment and resources.

For example, using only a small plastic box with an aluminum plate, tin foil, Styrofoam, pure alcohol and dry ice, high school students could build a tabletop “cloud chamber” to simulate the detection of cosmic particles from outer space. Another experiment taught physics to elementary school children by way of art. The children could drip paint on a canvas tilted at various angles, then observe the patterns the paint made as it descended.

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“You can then start introducing the idea of gravity,” Assamagan said. “And then relating things falling down to the Earth going around the sun as being driven by the same force.”

Assamagan predicts a bright future for physics research in Africa. He says he sees talent and commitment, but that more digital libraries, along with continent-wide access to high-speed internet connections and the political will to provide them, are needed. (VOA)