“Determination gives you the resolve to keep going in spite of the
He returned to his village Towa from Saudi Arabia during a summer job break in 2004. It was heavy monsoon and Kunwar river was overflowing in which 11 children died while trying to cross the river. The tragedy shook him. He requested the local politicians and the district administration to get a bridge constructed, as most of the schools and the madrasas are located on the other side of the river. Unfortunately his appeal fell on uninterested ears. Even the villagers didn’t support him. He decided to do the impossible: and determined to get a bridge made himself He was so obsessed with the mission that he did not return to the Gulf.
Meet Mr Shakeel Ahmad a class V pass out and resident of Towa, who collected donations and supervised the entire construction of the concrete bridge, which seems like a “knowledge bridge” for the nearly 800 students, who cross it daily for going to school. Preeti Yadav, a housewife of Lahideeh village, sends her five children over the bridge to different schools. She is not worried about their security. “I feel comfortable now and send my youngest son and daughter also to school for their bright future.” Ahmad’s bridges have connected the residents of 50 villages in Saraimeer tehsil of Azamgarh district to nearby schools, madrasas and to Azamgarh town. Built over the Kunwar river, which submerges the area during the monsoons, the bridges have earned Ahmad the nickname of “Pull Babu” from the locals. Till recently, Saraimeer tehsil’s claim to “fame” was as the home of underworld don Abu Salem.
Recalling the initial period of struggle Shakeel says, “I started roaming in the villages and Azamgarh city to raise funds. It was not an easy task. It was difficult to collect money from people. In the beginning they thought that I will cheat on them. I was out of home because I was collecting money. My family faced financial problems as I was jobless. My elder brother was the headman of the village, who thought that begging for money was a matter of shame. However I always felt the support of God at every step” Shakeel added.
“Initially, people were hesitant but later they started helping. Then I toured Delhi and Mumbai where most of the businessmen from Azamgarh reside. Most of them were generous and I managed to collect around Rs 65 lakhs .Notable among them were Haji Israr ul Haque –a business man from Gujarat, who donated generously. Besides him an engineer Mr Sanjay Shrivastava offered free services in the structural construction of the bridge. The construction started in 2002, but had to be stopped several times for want of money. The first bridge was completed in 2004.Encouraged by the response; I undertook the construction of four more bridges. The fourth bridge was completed in 2009, but there was no road to link it. It became finally operational in 2010. Towa, which has schools up to Class V only, has a population of 5,000, but the bridges connect around 100,000 people of over 50 villages in the area” said Shakeel.
“After the construction of the bridge the number of students has been increasing in schools, colleges and madrassas, on the other side of the Kunwar river in Saraimeer town, which has several educational and technical institutions and shopping areas. Younger children also take admission now .Earlier, it was very hard for them to attend the class timely, especially in the rainy season,” he said. There are two other pathways that lead to Saraimeer town but these are 20 km long and the road through the bridge is only two kilometers. Even public transportation is rare.
When asked, Neena Sharma, the district magistrate of Azamgarh said that they plan to use his services in their flood management efforts. “Right now, we are busy planning our disaster management activities after the Uttarakhand tragedy. We admire Shakeel’s effort and will also officially recognize him,” said Sharma.
The people of Azamgarh have only good words for Shakeel. “Shakeel did a marvelous job to facilitate education and he should be given some award,” Rightly so because many people think of giving something to society according to their capabilities, but there are some who have nothing, except big dreams .They follow their dreams passionately with a burning desire, and then nothing can stop them from making their dreams come true. He is not resting on his laurels “now I plan similar constructions of ten more bridges on other rivers in my area,” Shakeel added.