This is the story of a dream come true: building a library. Not just any library anywhere, but in a remote area of a country where the illiteracy rate is over 50% – Bangladesh. It is a story about friendship breaking down all cultural barriers and making things happen. This is the story of EduCaB. Things that have an impact on tens of thousands of people, changing the lives of several communities.
In 2010, I had the chance to receive a scholarship from the European Commission for an interdisciplinary Master’s Programme in Development. When I got to Italy I found out that I was part of a group of international students that came from all over the globe. Our group had 22 different nationalities, from all continents.
That’s where I met Sayed, a Muslim from Bangladesh. Over time, we became close, connected by an unseen energy that was difficult to put into words. It was Sayed’s first time in Europe. He didn’t understand simple things that I saw as totally normal, he wouldn’t get some of the jokes, and he couldn’t catch the references we were making to various films or music. He didn’t understand the norms of Western society. Meanwhile, I was fascinated by the world he was coming from, by the stories of the rural community where he was born, the customs and traditions of a completely different society. We spent many nights talking about development, politics, the role of women in these two different worlds, about people and habits. I got very attached to him and we became friends.
After 18 months of unforgettable experiences in Italy, Hungary, Serbia and the Czech Republic, Sayed revealed his life’s mission: to give something back to the community where he grew up, a small village in north-west Bangladesh called Soal. He was thinking of building the first privately funded library in the country there. He told me all about his childhood and the hard time he had accessing education. He said, ‘Look, Gratian, I’m graduating from a European Master’s programme and I’m a city planner in a big town in Bangladesh. Do you think I would have been able to get here if I hadn’t made the effort of getting an education when I was young?’, and he explained that he would walk for tens of kilometers each day to get to school. That was when I gave him my word that I would help him achieve his dream.
Between 2012 and 2015, we had all kinds of actions to support Sayed’s dream: e-mails to dozens of organisations, fundraisers, networking events, Skype calls with various donors. Unfortunately, we were only able to raise a relatively small amount of money. But then I met Mihai, who was building libraries in Nepal. After a few meetings with him, he told me about the concept of EduCaB (Education Capabilities in Rural Areas), an inter-institutional, inter-disciplinary framework aiming to enrich the capabilities of public libraries to meet needs at a local level. The goal of this project is to build the capabilities and capacities of people who are living in small villages and don’t have access to information and basic educational tools. EduCaB functions as a socio-cultural hub that developes many types of activities in order to build a critical mass in small communities.
In December 2015 we had a big fundraising event in Romania together with Mihai, and we managed to raise the money we needed to finish construction. I did also a crowdfunding:
In February 2016 we went to Nepal and Bangladesh with 125 kg of books for adults and children, as well as 10 laptops that were donated to the libraries that had been built there.
Today, the construction of a second library has started in Bangladesh, an investment that was possible thanks to Mihai’s donation, who at the end of last year won the Aspen Social Action Prize, a prestigious award from the Aspen Institute. Until now, EduCaB has opened branches in Romania, Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia, Malaysia, and will open new ones in Senegal, Uganda and Tanzania at the end of 2017.
After almost two years, EduCaB’s numbers are impressive: tens of thousands of people have been involved, huge numbers of books and laptops have been donated, and tens of socio-cultural programmes have been created in libraries in South-East Asia and Africa, all changing the future of marginalized communities. The credits go to the wonderful people from different parts of the world that wanted to be a part of this project, as well as its founder, Mihai. And everything started with a dream, a strong friendship and creating a connection between the right people, who all had similar energies and goals.
The most important lesson I have learnt throughout these last years in implementing EduCab is that there are always people around us with the same energetic minds and a strong willingness to work for social welfare. If likeminded people with a positive mentality work together, success becomes meaningful and achievable. When people with similar passions and beliefs around the world connect and work together, distance doesn’t matter – nothing seems unachievable. We just need to find those people. With less effort than we expect, we can find them by using our social capital, something that we often fail to identify or notice. – Abu Sayed, founder of Masud Parves Library, Bangladesh
This is what EduCab is all about: people, friends, communities, networks… and all for education in areas that don’t have access to this basic condition of human development.