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Remembering Niloufer Manzur

  • Published at 08:13 pm May 26th, 2020
Niloufer Manzur
Niloufer Manzur Collected

She touched the lives of everyone she met. With tributes pouring in, that  is poignantly evident

Founding principal of Sunbeams School, Niloufer Manzur, passed away on Tuesday from Covid-19. As news of her death spread, social media has been flooded with tributes from everyone starting from her former students, friends, and well-wishers. 

Below is only some of the outpouring of love and condolences for her on social media: 

The High are the Humble.

The Best are works of Silence!

Quiet dedication is your hallmark.

In a society of mediocrity, self-glorification and cacophony, you leave behind a legacy of grace, an edifice of learning and a thousand young minds lit with your love.

The perfect hero must die before time, leaving a trail of tears and an unfinished work to be finished by the hero next.

Another star falls from our sky made paler...

Farewell Teacher

Sharmeen Murshid

Chief Executive Officer, Brotee

All the kids who were ever with her, she knew us all by our names. Knew us inside out. I never heard her raise her voice, never saw her without her gentle smile, never imagined a Sunbeams without her comforting presence. Rest in peace, Miss. Till we meet again on the Other side. You left us heartbroken. 

Shamail I Ali

Demand Planning Manager, Unilever Bangladesh 

Rest In Peace dear precious Mrs Manzur. May the angels come down in ranks to receive you. May Allah grant you Jannah. I have had the privilege of working alongside her in Sunbeams for 25 years. I always felt I had come home when I stepped into Sunbeams. I never missed my home and family in India because she was like a mother to me and Sunbeams was my family. Over the years she nurtured and guided us and my children will always cherish and treasure the memories of their time in Sunbeams. She established a personal relationship with each child and never forgot their names. She never gave up on any child and ran the school with compassion, integrity, honesty and dedication. We loved seeing her every morning in her beautiful cotton saree, with a smile on her face. She never forgot to ask us how we were. We were never treated like employees. She was a pioneer and fought every battle with grace and dignity and came out shining. Tragically she lost the battle with this vicious virus. She will live on in each Sunbeamer- each child she has loved and nurtured will shine like a little sunbeam and be a beacon of hope and inspiration.

In the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

Lives of great men all remind us

   We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

   Footprints on the sands of time;

Amna Rahman

Former Sunbeams teacher

Once a Beamer, always a Beamer.

I woke up to the news today that my school principal had passed away from Covid-19. She had been in hospital for a while now and that alone prompted an outpouring of support from her well-wishers.

Those who knew her will remember how she knew each and every student by name, and even their parents and siblings. She wasn't the kind of principal that you'd get sent to when you got into trouble (though she was well capable of straightening out little rascals!) Rather, she was the soft spoken one that would say a quiet prayer of encouragement as you stepped into the hall to give your exams, as you left home for the first time to study abroad, even as you got cold feet at your wedding.

I first met her during my admissions interview in 2001, when she asked me why I wanted to come to Sunbeams. Being well-settled at my previous school and not wanting to move away from my friends, I told her that I didn't want to come to her school at all! In fact, I pouted to her that my parents were trying to make me move so that it would be more convenient for them in terms of location. My parents were furious, and even called the school afterwards to apologize. Mrs Manzur only laughed and reassured them that they valued students like me who were outspoken; and so the journey began.

In the education landscape of Bangladesh where most schools are run as commercial institutions, she had the courage to go against the grain and create a community that most students still feel a part of today. Although Sunbeams had always faced criticism for being an insular community, it speaks volumes that many alumni return to school as parents of later students, having nowhere else they'd rather let their own children study.

Mrs Manzur always tried to inculcate a sense of responsibility in us, to acknowledge our privilege and to use it in the best possible way. Today as our nation and the world goes through an unprecedented crisis, the best way to honour her memory would be to advocate for those less privileged to have had the kind of community that she continues to have around her.

As she always told us during foundation day speeches, 'students and teachers will come and go, but Sunbeams will live on forever'. Today it was her turn, and we pray that the legacy she leaves behind continues long after.

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajeun

Samiha Zaman

Former Sunbeams student 

Miss I will never miss you because I will never forget you. I will never forget how you sat beside me holding my handing till the end when Ma passed away. You held me strongly during the weakest moments of my life. I can't thank you enough ever! You will always stay close to my heart. Lots of love Miss!

Atoshi Rahman

Supervisor, Strategic Content Planning

Asiatec Marketing Communications Limited  

What can be said about Mrs. Manzur? No words can do justice to her dedication and contribution to Bangladesh through Sunbeams School, the best English Medium school in the entire country.  It’s the school I attended from Playgroup to ‘O’ Levels. 1989-2002.

These last few years I’ve thought a lot about what my life would have been like had my mom not been a Math and Science teacher employed at Sunbeams. Perhaps I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to attend such an elite school. Perhaps I wouldn’t even know or speak English or read and write Bangla. Perhaps I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to attend college in America.

I’ve never asked my mom but I wonder what her job interview at Sunbeams may have looked like. How she explained to Mrs Manzur who her husband was, why he was living in exile? Mrs Manzur did me a solid by allowing me to attend Sunbeams knowing my parents’ income was in no way comparable to my peers, and that I wouldn’t be speaking a word of English at home. I’ve always wondered why she gave me that opportunity. Now I’ll never know...

Since I graduated from Sunbeams in 2002, Sunbeams has grown a lot. 11th and 12th grades and ‘A’ Level classes were added to its curriculum, the senior section moved to its own campus in Uttara. But unlike its competition, Sunbeams never loosened its standards of creating go-getters, change makers, and perfectionists.

A few years ago, I helped a friend write an admission letter to Sunbeams for her son. While writing that letter, I realized attending Sunbeams was the biggest privilege of my life. The admission criteria at Sunbeams remains ever so strict even after 45 years of existence. No amount of money, donation, class or clout can make a difference. When the parents are interviewed, it goes beyond what the parents do, what languages are spoken at home, and which parent would help the child do homework. Unless the child and the parents meet the highest standards and display ultimate dedication to education, the child cannot attend Sunbeams. It is this standard and ethics that was instilled in us from day one at Sunbeams.

It is this standard that makes us beam with pride when we say we are “Beamers.”
I have personally seen in Bangladesh the kind of effect it has on people whenever I mention that I went to Sunbeams. People have so much respect for that institution, it fills every Beamer’s heart seeing and feeling that respect.

I’ll never forget anyone I met at Sunbeams. My teachers, my classmates, my friends, all the staff and help. You all will always remain in my heart.

I met Mrs Manzur one more time after graduation, when she came to the opening of my dual art exhibition with Lamia Wajeehah Hossain at Drik Gallery in December 2002. I remember being terrified that my semi-nude art was going to be viewed by my Principal of all people. She walked around the gallery with Mrs Kabir and the late Mrs Ahsan (very senior teachers at Sunbeams). Mrs Manzur told us how proud she was that her students were venturing out into the real world showing their art at a gallery and that we should carry on making art. Little did I know that would be my last time seeing her.

I’ll always remember Mrs Manzur in her cotton sarees. “Lucknow Chikan,” my mom used to say. I never heard Mrs Manzur raise her voice, no matter what the situation. She never scolded anyone. She was always so calm. She had the kindest soul.
It is beyond tragic that we lost her today to coronavirus.

RIP Miss. You are loved. 

Rohena Alam Khan

Copywriter, Facebook 

What an awful end to Eid day. Couldn’t sleep as usual, made the mistake of checking my phone around 3:30 am and was hit with the news of Niloufer Aunty passing away. I can’t imagine what Muna apa, Nasim bhai and Samia apa are going through (not tagging them here). To lose a person at a time like this, when none of our usual rituals are possible, is a very big part of our grieving process. I want to pay my respects too, and I can’t imagine what the family is dealing with. Aunty was such a warm and lovely person, so down to earth and affectionate, never any airs about her even though she’s one of the most accomplished women in our society. Seeing all the beautiful tributes of Sunbeams students this morning shows the impact she had on the lives of so many. Sunbeams students shine bright wherever they go. Her legacy lives on in one of the best schools in our country. Rest in peace Aunty. What a great personal loss for everyone that knew you, and a great loss for this country.

Naira Khan

Asst Professor, Dhaka University

Rest in Peace, Mrs Manzur - a soul who touched the lives of so many. My prayers go to her family during this awful time. What a loss for Bangladesh.

Srabonti Karim


Good night, sweet Perdita, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. Woke up to the sad news that Niloufer had passed away. We had acted together in "The Winter's Tale" where she had been the shy, but gracious Perdita, hosting the sheep-shearing festival. Years later, she became the Principal Apa of my twin grandsons. Generations of young persons grew up to be responsible young men and women through her guidance. Busy with our own works and lives, we did not meet until a few months ago when she invited me with a group of common friends for lunch. I was late because I had to take my dog to the vet. But I was in time to have lunch and enjoy her gracious hospitality. Who knew that that meeting would be our last? My prayers with you, Niloufer, and your family who have lost you at this strange and difficult time.

Professor Niaz Zaman

Dhaka University

Mrs Manzur has for decades nurtured generations of the most amazing people I know. Remembering one of her speeches now where she told us how she saw each of us as as rays of sunshine, and how it was the inspiration behind naming our school. Thank you for all you have done for this country. Heaven is a better place with you there.

Ahsan Z Khan

Communications Specialist, Usaid

Inna Lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un.

May Allah grant Mrs Niloufer Manzur Jannah and give her family the strength to bear this enormous loss.

I wanted to sleep in late today... How could I when the only person we entrusted our daughter’s future with, is no more amongst us today. There’s so much I wanted to write, but it’s absolutely heartbreaking and I can’t seem to put my words together. Still can’t get a grasp of this news.

What an irreparable loss to the nation. This is the end of an era.

Sunbeams School will never be the same.

Shahzabeen Alam Chowdhury

Owner, Just Desserts

Even in death you are still loved and forever will be. You have touched the hearts of so many who owe you a lifetime of gratitude.

This day our hearts are heavy for losing someone so special, but as we mourn your death, we also celebrate your life.

Rest in peace Mrs Niloufer Manzur.

Sukaina Shah

Audit staff, EY Bangladesh: A Quasem and Co. Chartered Accountants

Mrs Manzur, founder of Sunbeams left us all last night. Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajiun

She was never like a head mistress but was like a mother to me. I'll never forget her warmth, her smile and her compassion towards me when I was a teacher there.

It is a great loss not only for Sunbeams and her family but for the education sector as well.

Kashfi Ahmed

Director, CraftCon Ltd

I woke up this morning to the news of Mrs Manzur passing away and I am still processing it. I tried looking for photos of her, of us together, but I am extremely bad at archiving and couldn't find anything. I tried to find my old report cards with Mrs Manzur's immaculate signature, but moving between cities for the past few years meant I don't remember where I misplaced them. And then I sat down -- angry, frustrated, betrayed, in tears -- because I have no memorabilia of our time together. Grief is a strange emotion.

I have two distinct, personal memories with Mrs. Manzur. One, when I was 9 years old. I got the whiff that my parents were contemplating shifting me to a different school from Sunbeams. I told Mrs. Manzur I didn't want to leave what then had become my second home. She called my father, then spoke with my mother. I don't know what they discussed but I ended up spending 14 years in Sunbeams.

Two, I saw her at my wedding. I was 25, flustered. She came up to me and gave me the most generous, genuine hug of all time and whispered in my ear, "Sabhanaz, I am extremely proud of you." I calmed down immediately. She walked around the room, beaming, laughing, ever so graceful.

These might be ordinary incidents to some, but to me, they were life changing. Like many of my peers, I spent my entire childhood in Sunbeams in awe and in love with the school. When I stepped into the wider world, I had a heart break because I began to recognize the many aspects of the school and its culture that were deeply problematic. I spent time feeling immensely betrayed, only to realize, ironically, the only reason I felt that way is because of the strong foundation Sunbeams has instilled in me. My sense of justice, of demanding more accountability, of always wanting more and the best judgement from people come from growing up in a place led by an extraordinary individual. And so, just like that, I became forever indebted to Mrs Manzur.

Of her many qualities, her unbelievable memory and relentless will at ensuring her students had the best education are two that made Sunbeams such a special place. She remembered every student by name, insisted on signing all the report cards herself, would travel only to bring back more ideas and lesson plans to improve the school and took each student's case personally. She didn't want to stop at being just a principal of a school. She became an advocate, a visionary, a guardian, a safe haven, a friend. Years later, every time she visited my father's hospital for routine health check-ups, she would ask about me. To her, once you're a Beamer, you're forever a Beamer. She is our lifelong cheerleader.

It's funny that in all these years, despite all our reawakening and finding new homes, Sunbeams is the one we keep going back to. It's magic that most Beamers I meet can pick up a conversation exactly where we left off and share the same commitment to contribute towards a more equitable world. We don't even have to try because Mrs Manzur did the hard work of shaping our core thinking. She influenced more than just our education. She shaped the varied, yet similar paths we all chose in life. She taught us to care, to believe, to be unapologetically courageous, to be thoughtful. It didn't matter to her if we were a good or bad student; she wanted us to be good humans. She taught us leadership is less about holding the mic and more about quietly changing lives.

I am still crying. I don't want to believe our guardian angel is no more. Sunbeams has taught us to be articulate and write many essays, but I don't think any of us learnt to write obituaries. I don't even know if this is one. The world -- both the wider one and the one inside my head -- has lost an exceptional individual and teacher today. Thank you, Mrs Manzur.

Sabhanaz Rashid Diya

Computational Social Scientist, Gates Foundation

Like so many people I feel profoundly shaken by the news of Mrs Manzur’s passing. It’s impossible to overstate the impact my years at school had on me. Even 20 years later it’s the friends I met at school who continue to be my primary chosen family outside of actual family. Like so many others I have very fond memories of her - she was so warm, kind and supportive and she always made you feel special and not like one of the hundreds of kids she was interacting with daily. It’s truly humbling to think of how many hundreds if not thousands of people’s lives she had the most profound impact in shaping. What an incredible legacy and a huge loss for Dhaka and the educational community. My heart goes out to her family. Rest in peace, Miss.

Mehrangez Rahman

Senior Development Manager at Goldsmiths, University of London

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