Young but wise: Inspiring story of a library activist

Young and wise are not attributes we use interchangeably or place side by side when describing a person. Wisdom, we like to believe, comes with age. Yet the story of 19-year-old Atif Asad, a resident of a remote village in Jamalpur's Sarishabari upazila, shows us that it is never too early to start the good fight. According to a report by The Daily Star, Atif, a first-year honours student at Jamalpur Government Ashek Mahmud College, has established a library to enlighten not just students like him but also people in general. The library, founded in January 2018 with only 20 books, now boasts over 2,000. This is not your usual brick-and-mortar library in the heart of a town where people occasionally visit and read in the comfort of carefully archived collections with modern amenities. Housed in the veranda of his house with shelves made of jute sticks, he built his library from the ground up, slowly enriching his collection with help from young learners and local benefactors. His vision is built on a model of maximising outputs that sees him take his books to the doorsteps of his readers, rather than expecting them to visit his library.

This model has proven to be effective in a poor village like his where education is viewed as a luxury for those who can afford it. Riding his cycle, Atif travels to neighbouring villages 10 to 15 kilometres away to give his books, and makes the same journey to bring them back when his readers—now around 100—are finished with them. This is no easy task for someone who also has to work as a mason's helper to provide for his family as well as support his own education. His struggle didn't diminish his spirit; on the contrary, it enabled him to look past the tribulations of his life and focus on the importance of literacy for people who come from similar backgrounds.

We congratulate Atif for his tireless service for his community and expect others to follow his example. Such initiatives are an important way of improving lives in the rural backwaters of Bangladesh, which usually receives scant attention from the country's policymakers. Atif's story is also proof that any radical change desired in a society must involve contributions from the community members who understand their limits and problems and can solve them in the best way possible.

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