Renowned Bangladeshi educationist Niloufer Manzur, the founding principal of country’s one of the best and earliest English medium schools, ‘Sunbeams’ and a leading businesswoman of the country - lost her battle to COVID-19 on May 26. Ever since her demise, the nation still pouring heartfelt adios to the pioneer, including several of her former students who have been thriving around the globe with success.
The daughter of late Dr Mafiz Ali Chowdhury who was a former minister in Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's cabinet, and the better half of country’s renowned business personality and industrialist Syed Manzur Elahi, Mrs Niloufer Manzur founded Sunbeams School in January 1974 - and became a Florence Nightingale of English medium schooling in Bangladesh.
In her glorious journey of 74 years as one of the pioneer women in the country, Niloufer Manzur actually held a very busy and very much successful profile. Apart from being the legendary educationist that she remained throughout her entire life until her unfortunate demise, she was also associated with other ventures such as a company member and former Director of the Board of Social Marketing Company (SMC).
The Manzur family is certainly one of the pioneer families in Bangladesh which helped to develop the education sector of the country - as her husband Syed Manzur Elahi, a former caretaker government adviser and Chairman of Apex Footwear Ltd, is also an education enthusiast like her, serving as the founding Chairman of the trustee board of East West University, Dhaka. However, if one has to specifically talk about the quality education that the English medium schools have been providing - one must have to mention Niloufer Manzur’s utmost dedication as the head, heart and soul of Sunbeams school.
“To know and to grow with my students has been my pride and privilege over the past forty-five years. It has been an exploration of sorts. We have come together each morning to meet the challenges of the day and to evolve together. To journey together, to discover the novelty of learning, to navigate through the unexpected and unforeseen and ultimately to reach our destination. That has been the spirit of our journey each day. That is the essence of the excitement you sense around our school daily. That is our story”, the website of Sunbeams contains her prolific messages of togetherness to her children, aka her students.
Believing in immense and endless capabilities of each student, she expressed, “I believe each student has a role for tomorrow. Each student has so much to offer. In terms of ability. In terms of talent. In terms of opportunity. They are the new face of Bangladesh. With feet that transcend borders, we hope to prepare them to be equally at home with the east and the west. Every year at graduation, I see exciting new trails that are yet to be taken. There is joy and excitement in the air. Hope and promise. I know our graduates will not disappoint, not a single one of them. I know they are strong and unstoppable. With their talent and potential, they will forge ahead. This too, I know for sure.”
During the pandemic, she wrote a letter sent to her class X students, saying "Take the time now to be grateful for the blessings around you. Be grateful to be safe and secure at home. To be together with parents and family who give you unconditional love and security despite their own stress and anxiety. Take this time together to show them you care for them too. How often we neglect to do that! Do your part in making their days easier. Lend a helping hand with simple household chores. Talk and listen to each other. Share thoughts, hopes, and worries. Be a family. Be patient and kind with those at home with you who couldn't or didn't go to their own. Help the less-advantaged ones. Most of all, develop healthy habits and take care of yourself. I am counting on you to do all of the above and much, much more. I know you will not disappoint. I know you will do us proud."
Throughout her entire life, she profoundly dedicated herself to serve her students the best - as she considered each of them as her own child. To nurture all her children properly, Sunbeams always offered some of the much-needed lessons and commodities in both of its marquee campuses located in Dhanmondi and Uttara. She never compromised in the quality of commodities and services to not only educate a child but to make as an asset for the nation, thus many of her past students are now successfully playing their roles behind the betterment of the world.
Many of her students lamented and grieved on Facebook about the tragic demise of Mrs Elhai. One of her successful students, Naheed Ezaher Khan - who is currently serving as one of the reserved female members of parliament in Bangladesh, credited Niloufer Manzur as her guardian angel.
“Because I was the daughter of late Colonel Nazmul Huda (Bir Bikram) who was brutally assassinated in 1975, every school was refusing my admission as a student. I was mentally devastated, and it was Niloufer Manzur who sheltered me in her Sunbeams. I recovered from my childhood trauma, successfully completed my education and served the school back as one of its proud teachers for over 20 years. My three sons have also been her students and I can proudly say that all credit goes to her behind their graduation. When I was elected as a member of parliament, she blessed me with saying “You have made me proud and filled my dream through your effort as a teacher - now go make me proud more and fill your father’s dream through serving the nation”. It really feels like I have lost my mother, my guardian. No matter where she is, her blessing will always stay upon me”, Naheed wrote on Facebook, reminiscing her guardian angel.
Dhaka Chamber of Commerce & Industry President Shams Mahmud wrote, “One of the earliest memories I have of Mrs Manzur was me sitting in her office and her explaining to me I should not eat erasers and paper. She is perhaps the only person I have known who has never used her life of privilege for personal gain. While we see all schools becoming cattle farms with dollar signs above each students head, she always maintained the integrity and values upon which she created the institution called Sunbeams. The outpouring of grief by all the lives she has touched is perhaps the telltale sign of what a great human being she was in life. In death, she has created an entire generation who will continue living and spreading the values which she had instilled within each of us. May all of us, whose lives she has touched in some way, continue to live by what she has taught us. This is the least we all can do for her as her students.”
Country’s renowned women entrepreneur, founder of SBK Tech Ventures and SBK Foundation and former Managing Director of Microsoft Bangladesh Sonia Bashir Kabir was a direct student of her as well. Reminiscing Mrs Elahi, she wrote:
Niloufer Aunty, known to me earlier as my teacher, Mrs Manzur came into my life in 1973 when I was a student of 3rd grade in Geeran’s Tutorial (which later became Maple Leaf). I vaguely remember my mom telling me that Mrs Manzur was leaving Geeran’s to start her own school and that we would be joining Sunbeams from January 1974. I studied in Sunbeams from 1974 January (4th grade) to 1975 June (5th Grade) before we left for England. We moved back to Bangladesh in 1977 but I had to enroll in Green Herald in 7th grade as much to my heart’s discontent, Sunbeams only went up to 5th grade. Mrs Manzur & Sunbeams were an integral part of our lives. My brothers Aref Bashir & Shahid Bashir went to Sunbeams and my mom Raihana Bashir also taught English in Sunbeams. Aunty had a big influence in my life from my early childhood years till my dad passed away this year, when she spoke at his prayer ceremony.”
“I remember doing very poorly in my half-yearly exams in 1974. The exam results were announced on the last day before summer vacation and we were all asked to 'dress as we like'. For reasons unbeknownst to me now, I had dressed up as a queen. Devastated by my results I went to see Mrs Manzur, humiliated, in tears, cursing myself for dressing up. What she said to me that day resonates till today and helped me become who I am now. “If you dressed like a queen you must feel like a queen. Don’t ever give up. Queens never do”. She was a legend most people know today but I was fortunate to witness the legend in making. A magnanimous soul, larger than life, Aunty will be missed a lot but her rewarding life is truly one to celebrate not mourn”, Sonia paved tribute to the eminent educationist.
Eminent celebrities from the screen such as Sara Zaker, Suborna Mustafa, Iresh Zaker, Meher Afroz Shaon, Naveed Mahbub, Elita Karim, Shafayet Mansoor Rana and more, alongside with the thousands of Sunbeams graduates who call themselves as the ‘Beamers’, and were fortunate to be refined through the Midas Touch of Mrs Niloufer - expressed their deepest grieves over her tragic demise on May 26.
Surely, people from all available social genres had been victimized and even became parts of COVID-19 death toll around the world - and losing a pioneer like Niloufer Manzur is unrepairable for Bangladesh. Mrs Manzur, for all her wonderful attributes and contributions - will surely live through her family, friends, peers and thousands of successful and to be successful, aspiring ’Beamers’ for the eternity.