It may have been the defining moment of his life, when a former shoemaker from Kishoreganj decided to put down his tools and volunteer for an entirely different cause: tutoring pre-school children.
That was in 2007, a year after his unsuccessful attempt at appearing for the 2006 SSC examinations. Mobarak Hossain, a dropout who could never make it to school after that, made it his life’s mission to teach children before they entered into formal education.
Starting with only 15 students at his village in Kuliarchar upazil, Kishoreganj, Mobarak's Kandigram Fulkoori School now boasts around 70 regular students. Most of them are from economically constrained backgrounds like him.
The school has no permanent academic building like conventional schools do. Instead students gather at a pre-arranged venue - usually under a tree, in an open field or in the front yard of a house, and get their lessons for free.
As soon as they come, Mobarak gets them to sit together in rows and provides them lessons in the basic literacy and numeracy that are necessary for entry into formal educational institutions. “I usually target 5-6 year-olds who haven’t yet started going to school. I teach them the basic lessons and encourage them to get enrolled into a school,” the 24-year-old said.
However, continuing in this vein with hardly any material support from outside is a daunting task that requires rock-solid determination. For Mobarak, the inspiration emanates from his own life’s story - as a student who came so close to sitting for his first public examination yet wasn’t able to afford the costs.
After that attempt, Mobarak's father, a farmer, took him and his four brothers to a shoe factory where Mobarak worked for three months.
Recalling the time, Mobarak said, "I saw underage boys working in abject conditions with no opportunities for a decent life or studies. So I decided to come back and do something for underprivileged kids so that they don’t have a similar fate as mine." The result was his free mobile school.
He may not have lofty degrees tagged behind his name, but Mobarak thinks his "limited qualification is enough to prepare a kid for his or her formal academic life."
Naeem Uddin, a guardian, said, "It is the love and patience that he shows towards the children that is most important. From our own experience we know how tough and abusive primary teachers can be. With him, it's just the opposite."
Mobarak often roams through villages in search of students, talks to parents or guardians and tries to convince them about the importance of primary education. So far, over 350 children have received lessons from him and gone on to primary schools, where some have thrived with distinction.
To bear the necessary educational expenses, relatively well-off students pay a certain amount of money as monthly fees and that compensates for those unable to pay at all. Classes are for two hours every day, except Fridays and Saturdays.
Md. Shahidul Islam Bin Helal, the upazila education officer of Kuliarchar, said, "I really appreciate the inspirational efforts of people like Mobarak, who work for their society for no tangible interest or personal gain".
Mobarak is now hopeful that his students will go on to be successful in life and inspire many others through their accomplishments.