Lessons from volunteerism

Uttam survived Bangladesh’s liberation war

“During the Bangladesh Liberation war, I escaped with my family from Faridpur, Bangladesh and came over to Alipurduar”. – Uttam Mondal, Satya Bharati, Konnagar.

Meet Uttam Mondal- a man whose rich experiences of several up, close and personal encounters with death, war, communal riots and fall of government, has all been great learning platforms for him individually.

He has been associated with the Children International- SAHAY sponsorship program since 1999, when his daughter was a sponsored child. Today she is married and is a proud parent herself!

The gratified grandfather recollects, “When I was born, a lotus flower bloomed for the first time in our village pond and my grandmother fondly called me ‘padma’ meaning lotus.”

He adds, “My father was a poor carpenter and was able to only afford my education till the 8th grade. Thereafter, I went onto become an apprentice with a tailor in the market. To reach this market place, I would swim across the river daily. For lunch I would eat a handful of fermented rice.”

Years later this same man, after his marriage, relocated to Konnagar, a town in the Hooghly district of West Bengal, and settled down with his family there – not before he gifted all his property and land to his brother, back in Alipurduar. He then left with his family and just thirty-five rupees in his pocket. Hence forth he popularly began being called ‘Uttam’ (Excellent) among his friends and relatives.

Not only was his daughter taken onto the sponsorship program but also a house and toilet were built for him and his family, which he defines as an ‘act of God’.

Sharing his experiences of being in close proximity with death, the middle-aged man says, “During the liberation war, my grandfather and I were running across a field full of dead bodies as we heard that the soldiers were doing their rounds once more to kill any survivor. As we ran across my grandfather’s foot got caught in one of the corpses strewn across. With these bare hands I had to free his foot.”

Having being a resident of Konnagar for the last two decades, Uttam is well-known and respected as a person and volunteer. He is also a member of Milan Chakra, the local club and has assisted in arranging free eye-camps, distribution of spectacles among other social activities. He is also a member of the Bharat Sevashram Sangha.

According to Uttam, working as a volunteer with the program he has been able to ‘develop’ his ‘leadership abilities’ and ‘earn the confidence of the people of the community’.

He sums up by saying, “Previously I was a flower but now I am a tree which has brought forth many flowers. Today I am able to help many people.”

(Uttam is a volunteer with Children International-SAHAY. The Kolkata based NGO works with about 26,000 children and youth in several districts of West Bengal. SAHAY is affiliated to Children International, Kansas City, USA. More details on www.children.org )

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