Making A Difference
When Giving is the only Motivation
Begum Fazilatunnessa Bulu is one of those rare individuals who believe that one's purpose in life is to help others. Fazilatunnessa Bulu, popularly known as 'Bulu Apa' is such a person. A freedom fighter, Bulu Apa always reaches out to people suffering because of want of money - a father who cannot arrange his daughter's marriage, a diligent student who cannot sit for an exam, someone weak with hunger or has lost the ability to earn a living due to old age or illness, the list of people who have benefited from this remarkable woman is endless.
Bulu Apa helps people with her last penny. Her philanthropic endeavours have cost her 17 bighas of land, a wheat mill and a printing press. Selling all her assets she gave shelter to helpless people, showed ways to earn livelihood and gave them the capital to set up businesses.
This diminutive woman with a lion's heart was born in 1921 at the village Kalmu under Fulchhari upazila of Gaibandha district. She was the fourth child of her parents. She did her Matriculation from Jalpaiguri High School and ISC from Rajshahi Government College. She joined Rangpur Governmentt Girls High School as the first Muslim teacher after her marriage in 1948. Her husband Mojibor Rahman was a freedom fighter and a businessman. She joined the gazetted post of Social Welfare Organiser in 1959. She could not complete masters although she was a graduate finally being in the teaching profession at the same time.
With other well known personalities after receiving the Radhuni Kirtimati Accreditation award on the occasion of International Women's Day. Photo: Courtesy
Bulu Apa at that time took an initiative to establish a girl's school to educate, employ and empower women. The school named as 'Shamaj Kallyan Biddyabithi' is now regarded as one of the best educational institutions in Rangpur city. She also played the role of joint secretary for Coordination Council of Women Agencies, Rangpur. She arranged livelihood for many destitute women by establishing a cottage industry in Rangpur. She devoted herself to serve the refugees at Kuchbihar camp during the liberation war of Bangladesh. This freedom fighter rehabilitated around 150 women victims of the Pak Army's atrocities. Bulu Apa has also helped to reintegrate former sex workers into society. She was secretary of her own established organisation for the rehabilitation of uprooted women. Bulu Apa was one of the entrepreneurs to establish Begum Rokeya College.
Begum Fazilatunnessa Bulu, dedicating her life to philanthropy. Photo: courtesy
It is disturbing that a person as selfless as Bulu apa, who has given so much to society has to face the ordeal of seeing her home, given to her by the government, being grabbed by others. The most shocking fact is that some of the encroachers have been able to survive because of the help they received from Bulu Apa.
One of Faizilatunnessa Banu’s most important cntributions is introducing 'Sheba Chula', a special kind of burner that saves 50 per cent of fuel, to housewives and other commercial users. Sheba Chula is not only eco-friendly, it also saves cooking time. She invented Sheba Chula in 1978 and received an award for this burner by exhibiting it in the district's science fair. This burner is still preserved at the Dhaka Science Museum for exhibition. Bulu Apa is not only philanthropist, she is also a nature lover, that is why even at 92, she goes door to door to introduce and popularise Sheba Chula. Since her invention, she has sold 22 thousand pieces and given away 500 pieces of burners as gifts. Sheba Chula is available across the country including Dhaka.
Fazilatunnessa, mother of four daughters and a son never saved money for her children. "I am taking care of people, Allah, the almighty will look after my children," this was her belief regarding her children. She was a recipient of many government and non-government awards for her contribution to society. She received the Shada Moner Manush award from ATN Bangla in 2008 and received the state honour from the Prime Minister in 1999. Lastly she won the Radhuni Kirtimati Accreditation award on the occasion of International Women's Day 2011 from Squire Consumer Products Ltd. She has donated all her money from these awards to help needy people. She spends all her pension money for the same purpose. When she runs out of personal funds to help people she inspires solvent people of society to assist the helpless people. She sold out the gold medal she received as state honour, for eight thousand taka only to pay the interest on a loan her neighbour had taken and could not pay.
It is disturbing that a person as selfless as Bulu apa, who has given so much to society has to face the ordeal of seeing her home, given to her by the government, being grabbed by others. Twenty-three decimal (satangsha) of land of 28 decimal including her house, situated at Alamnagar Khamarpara at Rangpur beside the Rangpur Karmaikel College and University, has been encroached upon by influential locals. The most shocking fact is that some of the encroachers have been able to survive because of the help they received from Bulu Apa. Apart from her living room, the rest of Bulu Apa's house has been taken by land grabbers.
With all her funds exhausted and most of her home confiscated, Bulu Apa has been forced to stop production of Sheba Chula for six months which is her only complaint against the grabbers. All she wants is that some of her land is given back to her so that she can continue producing these fuel efficient burners that have made many lives easier and are more kind to the environment. Such is the mind of this amazing woman.