Boniyar man’s inspiring story to educate the lesser privileged
By Sheikh Mustafa
Muneer Ahmad was born with a rare condition that left him unable to walk or use his hands properly. However, he never let his disability or his humble background stop him from pursuing his dream.
Hailing from a poor family of a border village, he not only became an MBA graduate, he also chose to dedicate his life to teaching specially abled children of his area for free. Using his own resources, he is offering free tuitions to about 50 students with disabilities or those who are economically under privileged. Today, he is a shining example of perseverance and determination. But his journey was never easy.
Born on March 3, 1990 in a poor family of village Lachipora 60 kms away from north Kashmir’s District Baramulla along the Line of Control (LOC), Muneer received primary education at a local school. Later he went to Bijhama, 5 kms every day despite his walking disability, to pursue his secondary school. Later, he completed his Bachelors in Arts from Uri and finally went to Uttarakhand Technical University for his Masters in MBA.
Muneer said, “While doing my MBA, I realized that there were many especially challenged children who were unable to afford quality education. My heart was pierced by the thought of the plight of many disabled children and their struggles. They echoed in the depths of my soul. I vowed to make a difference, to illuminate their lives with the guiding light of hope.”
After his studies, instead of pursuing a promising career armed with an MBA degree, he chose to come back and started his pursuit. In 2019, his journey began from a small, rented room. His brother-in-law, who works in the NHPC department, and who was eager to support Muneer’s venture generously offered to contribute a steady stream of Rs 10,000-20,000 a month. His father joined the noble cause. “With that I embraced the role of a dedicated tutor, transforming homes into classrooms. My brother-in-law is a beacon of support and my father is my pillar of strength. Every rupee earned meticulously channeled towards our mission.”
“That is how Moonlight Trust was born – as a symbol of compassion amidst the darkness of despair,” says Muneer. “The path to establishing Moonlight Trust was full with challenges, a relentless test of our resilience. The dearth of resources and the absence of external funding threatened to derail our dreams. Yet, my brother-in-law’s unwavering support and the unwavering belief of my family kept us afloat,” he adds.
They began the journey within the confines of a single rented room. Muneer’s school, which began with just a handful of students, is now growing rapidly and has more than 50 children. ” My brother Mohd Yousf, another teacher and I teach all the subjects. I also provide my students with free books, uniforms, and stationery.”
The task of teaching fifty to one hundred students in such a cramped space was daunting, but they had unwavering faith in their mission. Over time, with the help of a bank loan, they secured their own space – a five-roomed shed – brought to life by the generous contributions of the local community who donated bricks, stones, iron, and wood to set up the foundation of Moonlight in Zumberpatan in Boniyar tehsil.
“Amidst the bone chilling cold winter, we extended a compassionate hand to underprivileged students, offering them free tuition, a lifeline of hope amidst their financial hardships. Last year alone, we welcomed fifty students from impoverished families, ensuring that their thirst for knowledge remains unquenched,” he says with humility.
“I was inspired by my own experiences. I know how difficult it is for handicapped students to get a good education. I wanted to do my part to help these students by providing them with a free and quality education.”
At the age of 21, Muneer began observing the pathetic conditions of poor and disabled children. He wanted to contribute in some way to make them self-reliant and help them lead dignified lives. He realized through study of reports and his own personal experiences that poverty and physical handicaps were intertwined in many ways.
In spite of recent industrial and economic progress, poverty still remains a constant impediment to the growth of many nations and numerous villages. Factors such as diseases, lack of awareness, malnutrition, and inadequate intervention facilities contribute to high disability rates in these areas. As per official statistics, “In India, 1.24% of children aged 0–6 are disabled. The 2019 State of the Education Report for India: Children with Disabilities found that 1.7% of the total child population, or 78,64,636 children, have disabilities. According to UNESCO, 75% of children with disabilities in India don’t attend school. 45% of children with disabilities in India fail to attain literacy.” Consequently, begging often becomes the sole survival option for many impoverished and disabled individuals. This thought bothers Muneer a lot and that is what inspires him to keep going.
He’s happy and satisfied with the progress of his school, so far. But he is mindful of the challenges ahead. One of them is convincing people to send their children for studies.
“Currently, we are not enrolling students on regular basis. We are giving tuition classes to over 50 students with disabilities. Initially, their parents were hesitant to send them to school but I persistently approached them and persuaded them to send them here for free education,” he says.
Yet, another challenge is lack of teachers and resources. There are not many teachers who are trained to teach these students, Muneer reveals.
Another challenge is making the mission sustainable. Though philanthropic contribution from family members and local community keeps it going, Muneer has a vision for the future.
He says, “Now we have plan to register the Trust. Then we will start enrolling students on regular basis. I envision a future where Moonlight Trust embraces a regular enrollment system, catering to an ever-growing community of students.”
He spells out his big dreams, with a twinkle in his eye: “One day my school will be able to provide free education to many specially abled students in Boniyar. I also hope that Moonlight Trust will be able to provide its students with vocational training so that they can find jobs and become self-sufficient.”
Muneer says that when he began pursuing MBA, he wanted to become an entrepreneur but abandoned his dream for a larger mission. “Serving hands are holier than the lips that speak,” he says.