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Dhaka Tribune

Coronavirus: Dream of Bangladeshi-born Harvard dad ends abruptly

Like the story of every immigrant in America, he came to the US to build a better life through hard work in the hopes that their kids will have more opportunities than they did

Update : 19 Apr 2020, 11:53 AM

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has claimed many lives across the world, turning their names and stories into just numbers in the casualty list of the deadly disease.

Many of them could not see their dreams, that they had been weaving for many years through hard work and dedication, come true and fall into place. 

Those who met their untimely death by the pandemic left behind families who mourn them and stories that deserve to be told.

One of these stories belong to Mohammed Jafor, a Bangladeshi-born cab driver from New York, a state which has recorded nearly half the deaths from Covid-19 in the US.

He died on April 1 at the age of 56, orphaning his three children in an apartment near Gun Hill Road in the Bronx.

"He worked all his life and gave away so much. He didn't have any type of job that was incredibly profitable or anything. He worked at McDonald's. He was a deliveryman. He was a cab driver,” his son Mehtab told CNN.

Jafor drove a yellow cab to get his kids the best education the country can offer and was almost there in reaching his American dream.

He began his workday by dropping his daughter Sabeeha off for second grade at the prestigious Trinity School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and would drive all day and then go back to pick her up when school was over.

There was already evidence of success from his hard work. Sabeeha was following in the footsteps of her brother, Mahtab, who is now a double major in economics and history at Harvard University.

His life was all about making sacrifices again and again, just to make sure his family, both at home and in Bangladesh, had everything they needed, said Jafor’s son.

Like the story of every immigrant in America, he came to the US to build a better life through hard work in the hopes that their kids will have more opportunities than they did.

Jafor's American story began in 1991 when he arrived from Bangladesh, and lived in an overcrowded apartment with other immigrants in Jackson Heights of Queens. 

He saved his money, sending it home to support his parents. Then, he went back to Bangladesh to marry his bride, Mahmuda Khatun, and have their first child, Mahbub Robin, before returning to New York.

In 2000, Mahtab Shihab was born at Elmhurst Hospital, now known as ground zero of the coronavirus pandemic.

Even from the family's early days, their values were clear by the father.

"He wanted to make sure that we understood the privilege and the opportunity we had of being in America and how thankful we should be for that," Mahtab said. 

His children started at a public school in the Bronx, but Jafor heard about a non-profit recruitment which helped lower income kids of color from New York City to attend excellent but expensive private schools. 

"He wanted to make sure we used all of the opportunities and resources that were at our disposal. And part of that was having a very good education.”

Mahtab started at Trinity School in the 7th grade. 

Tragedy struck the family in 2016, when their mother, Mahmuda, passed away from cancer. 

However, a bon of light shined upon the family the next year when Mahtab was accepted at Harvard and his little sister began kindergarten at Trinity. 

Their pride was limitless. The future seemed bright. Then tragedy came again.

In March, Harvard shut down and Mahtab came home. His father was already self-quarantining -- only leaving the apartment once to make sure that his taxi-driving job was secure. 

He came down with a slight fever for a few days but then started suffering from severe shortness of breath. His kids took him to Montefiore Medical Center, where, his son recalled, he was put on a ventilator for a week. He seemed to be improving. Then he died.

Word spread quickly. When Mahtab's friends heard the terrible news, they rallied around the family. 

The donations came in, big and small, from every community he'd worked his way through, Mahtab says. 

"They understood that we would be in a very financially difficult situation," with the heart-wringing prospect of supporting a second grader without parents. Within days, supporters raised $250,000. 

Even with extended family and friends, there will be difficult days ahead. 

There is no substitute for a dad and mom. But one source of comfort should be the now undeniable fact that while the children of Mohammed Jafor are orphans, they are not alone. 

The hard work their father did driving through the streets of New York in his yellow cab provided opportunities that will sustain them for years to come.

"He never really got to see the fruits of his hard work," Mahtab said in a quiet voice. 

"The fact that me and my brother were almost at the point where we're doing our own careers, having these independent paths were paved by my father."

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