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Man with mission

Syed Firoz Ashraf, born in Hazaribagh, Bihar (now in Jharkhand) on 23 July 1943, a freelance journalist, script writer for television serials and a dedicated social worker, has been running free tuition classes since 1997 for the children of watchmen, sweepers, tailors, hand-cart pullers, stable workers, domestic servants and other poor, down-trodden, underprivileged and neglected segments of society sans fee. It’s 4 O’clock in the evening and the 58-year-old Firoz Ashraf’s two-room modest ground floor apartment in Jogeshwari (West) swiftly gets transformed into an exclusive tuition class.

Firoz Ashraf did his BSc from Ranchi University and Diploma in Journalism from Mumbai-based Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan. From 1966 he has been regularly contributing to various dailies, periodicals and magazines. He has been writing the famous column ‘Pakistan Nama’ in Navbharat Times and Urdu Times and has won an Award for excellence in Urdu journalism from the Governor of Maharashtra in 1980. He was quite often seen reading or writing at home. The watchman of the building thought him to be the right person to approach for tutoring his children. The next to request was the sweeper woman. Ashraf obliged them and became a tutor. He did not take fees from the poor though they wanted to pay.

Thus began his free tuition classes. When the news spread among the jhuggi-jhopdi dwellers around, the number of students remarkably increased. His wife, Arifa, a BMC employee happily supported the community service by helping her husband in teaching the students. Table chairs, notebooks, pencils and biscuits sagacious uncle Firoz and his wife Arifa provide the kids. They even help the children with medicines and free of charge treatments from doctor friends. Ashraf has tried to sustain all these from whatever his freelance writing fetches him. But Ashraf needed financial support to arrange more teachers and spacious rooms for the swelling number of students. Thanks to Razzak Allana, chairman of Allana Foundation and the Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, other well wishers of the society also came forward to help him continue his mission.

His first batch of SSC came out in 1998 comprising three students, Nilofer, Raeesa and Rahimunnissa. They have successfully passed SSC, all wishing to pursue higher education in their own choice subjects and willing to be a teacher, a lawyer and a doctor respectively. The trio coming through with flying colours are now pursuing their studies in Ismail Yusuf College, Mumbai. They are also teaching other students. They have high hopes. Neelam, a student of Ashraf’s class, after Kargil episode, wants to join army.

A small teaching job of Ashraf on request of the building watchman went on to become his mission. Besides Jogeshwari west, Ashraf has now started his classes in Jogeshwari east and Juhugali (Andheri). This year 11 students appeared in SSC exams.

Today Syed Ashraf has a sizeable number of students and interestingly enough two thirds of them belong to poor non-Muslim families. But Ashraf never minds as he is equally loved by all and fondly called ‘Uncle.’ His mission is to give light to poverty-stricken and slum dwelling children to encourage them to step forward. As for his service he says, ‘In the smiles of these children I have found life.’

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