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‘I was called the master who misguided girls’

Meet Mafiz Uddin, the goldsmith behind Kalsindur’s golden girls
Shams Rahman
24 Sep 2022 00:00:00 | Update: 24 Sep 2022 03:45:20
‘I was called the master who misguided girls’

People called him a madman, mocked him, and hurled words at him to stop him and his students. But he did not.

He is Mafiz Uddin, formerly a teacher of Kalsindur Government Primary School in Kalsindur, Mymensingh, a village near Bangladesh’s Northern border.

As the national team went on to win the SAFF Women’s Championship 2022, the first-ever for Bangladesh, Mafiz was filled with pride. And probably more than most because he was the one who introduced eight players of that team to football.

Sanjida Akhter, Maria Manda, Shiuli Azim, Sumsunnahar Sr, Sumsunnahar Jr, Tohura Khatun, Sajeda Khatun, and Marjia Akhter are the eight players nurtured by Mafiz. And after their crowning moment in Nepal, they have become national celebrities.

In an exclusive interview with The Business Post, Mafiz revealed that his planning for a girls’ team started when the Bangamata Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Gold Cup started in 2011.

“It all started in 2011 with Bangamata Gold Cup. When we got the letter for that tournament, we started working on the team.

“I started thinking of forming a girls’ team in 2010. Because forming a boys team is easier and it is difficult to grow a reputation with that. But with a girls’ team, you had to start from scratch,” he said.

And they immediately found success. In 2011 and 2012, the Kalsindur Govt. Primary School team became the Champions in the Dhaka division, and in the next three years, they won it all as they were crowned national Champions on all three occasions.

While the success was sweet, the journey to reach there was as tough as it comes. Mafiz and the then headmistress of the school, Minoti Rani Shil, had to pass many hurdles to form a team.

“When we were picking the players, we had to face many hurdles. As our’s one is a Muslim country, many guardians did not want their daughters to play football. Then, the girls also did not want to wear shorts. They wanted to play in salwar-kameez. I and the headmaster had to go to the footballers’ homes to convince the parents. When we failed, the chairman and member of the Union Parishad helped us,” Mafiz said.

Even after they got the girls to play, the concerns did not end as they had to ensure that the players did not drop out.

“We arranged meetings with the guardians every month to talk to them about how their daughters would benefit from playing football and discussed what can be done to help them even more. We did these to ensure that the players kept playing football,” Mafiz explained.

The girls were trained in the evenings after school and on weekends. If a tournament was approaching, they put in a double shift.

But all their effort could not stop people from gossiping. There were no organised impediments to stop the girls from playing, but Mafiz had to hear that he was ‘a madman’ and even to the extent that he was ‘misguiding girls’.

“We did not face any resistance directly, but we were mocked and teased. One evening, I was watering the field during summer to keep it fresh for the players. People at the marketplace used to say, ‘Mofiz master (commonly used to address teachers) has gone mad’.

“One day, I heard a religiously-inclined man telling someone that I (Mofiz) am not a master (teacher) but was misguiding girls. We had to listen to a lot of mockeries. But we did not pay any heed to them, and thus we became successful,” he said.

But all that neither stopped Mafiz nor Sanjida, Maria, and others. Those who were using negative words stopped using those following the footballers triumphing and clinching trophies. But the footballers’ biggest achievement was when they managed to bring electricity connection to Kalsindur, a village of almost 800 families, in 2015.

Ironically, those who refuted the girls playing football, asked for recommendations by the footballers to have electricity lines at their homes and madrasa.

“I will just give one example. There was a man who talked badly about us. But when Sanjida and the others became successful and brought electricity to the village, he asked her to ensure an electrical line to his house and madrasa.

“Also, the parents who did not want to allow their girls to play are now happy because they have these facilities as their girls played,” he said.

While the girls paraded on an open-deck bus on Wednesday after achieving the first major women’s title in the country’s history, Mafiz was prouder than ever.

“I cannot express my happiness with words. One thing is that Bangladesh had never won the SAFF Women’s Championship. For me, the pride is bigger because eight of these girls are my students. They learnt the ABCD of football from me, trained under me. That’s why my happiness is greater,” an emotional Mafiz said.

Mafiz was transferred from Kalsindur in 2018 but hopes to come back and nurture players for the future.

“I got a promotion in 2018 and moved to another school. I hope to return to Kalsindur after 2-3 years and bring up more players,” he said.

Bangladesh have become South Asian Champions, but Mafiz believes the team can do far better if given proper guidance.

“If they are provided with the correct facilities and BFF can take care and guide them properly, this team can become one of the best teams in Asia,” he said.