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              Volume 10 |Issue 34 | September 09, 2011 |


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Earuddin Khalifa's
Red Round Boxes

Morshed Ali Khan

The network is phenomenal. It is spread all over the country, especially in the southern regions with utter efficiency. It is a method of fund raising for a lilla (charity) boarding and madrasa in Mirzaganj, 15 kilometres west of Patuakhali across the mighty Paira river. The modus operandi of this fund raising may make modern-day chartered accountants sweat.

If you are travelling anywhere in the southern part of the country or elsewhere, you cannot miss the red round-shaped steel charity boxes secured with a chain and a lock to anything from a tree trunk, electric pool to a bamboo pole of a political party office. In every tea stall, shop, restaurant, bus, launch, pedal steamer, ferry, bank, bazaar and court building --- in every locality the red round boxes are there. In the bazaars of all cities, townships and villages the hand-scribed massage on top in white paint is simple. "Please donate for the Marhum Earuddin Khalifa Lilla boarding and madrasa in Mirzaganj."

People from all walks of life are supportive to Earuddin's legacy. A shopkeeper in Barguna Bazaar never starts his day without donating some money into the box, which hangs in the front of his business. Men, women and children think the donation brings good luck. At different court building lawyers and their clients donate for luck with their cases. At hospitals they donate for quick recovery, students for success in the exams and bus drivers for safety on the roads. Prospective migrant workers donate for trouble-free migration and pregnant mothers for healthy children. The red, round boxes are there, always.

The organisers of this religious mission, operating since our independence, say there are around 25,000 of these red boxes scattered all around the country. But they also admit there are lakhs more spread all over the country money from which hardly reaches the madrasa boarding. On an average over Tk 10 lakh pours into the facility every two months from different parts of the country.

Earuddin Khalifa's red boxes are spread all over the country. Photo: Sohrab Hossain

The charity boarding school, up to the level of higher secondary, accommodates up to 400 students. It was named after a pious man Earuddin Khalifa, who had originally come from Shariatpur district and settled at Mirzaganj as a small trader selling spices just over 100 years ago. Towards the end of his quiet and mystic life Earuddin started to work as a tailor in the bazaar that earned him the title of Khalifa, meaning tailor. He lived alone in a small boat in the canal by the bazaar and after his death 88 years (Bangla year 1329) years ago he was buried by the river.

It was after independence of the country that the local Mallik family revived this pious man's memoirs and launched the free madrasa and an open kitchen to feed destitute people and children coming to learn. Today, the money raised from these boxes feed up to 500 mouths, two meals a day.

In 1993 the Waqf Administration moved in to declare the madrasa complex a Waqf Estate. As per the government rules by virtue of his office, the local Thana Nirbahi Officer (TNO) became the chief of the Waqf Estate.

Photo: Sohrab Hossain

The charitable boarding, the school and the fund raising did not remain out of politics and interference. In 2008 the Waqf administrators violated their own constitution and formed a 19-member committee for two years, who are now running the show. The constitution of the madrasa clearly prescribes 11 members for the committee over a period of three years and sets down inclusion of six members from the traditional managers of the complex.

Any group or individual can apply to the authorities for raising funds from different localities. Shahid Mallik former secretary of the executive committee said that once the application is received from someone from an area interested in setting up boxes he is given an authorisation from the office.

"It is up to the group or the individual to make the steel boxes and hang them at different places. Every two months the collector has to collect the money and return it to the madrasa after deduction of his own commission," Mallik said. Currently there are 100 collectors throughout the country who every two months empty the boxes. Moreover, visitors to the shrine also donate for the madrasa.

"Most of these collectors are long trusted pious men, who are dedicated to the cause of the charitable boarding school," said Mallik. “From throughout the country these people are sending their collections regularly without failure for years.”

The stake of the Waqf administrators is also there. The madrasa authorities must pay the Waqf a commission of five percent from the funds collected every year.

Earuddin Khalifa lilla Boarding and Madrasa is not the only charitable organisation offering religion based education to hundreds of children in the country, but it is indeed an emblem in terms of efficient fund raising. The round red boxes are always there within sight.

The writer is Special Correspondent, The Daily Star.



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