Follow your dream
Philanthropist Naqibullah Elyas's is a rags to riches story. The head of a famous medical studies institute in Takhar started out unloading big cartons. A life story.
"I used to unload big cartons," he says. "Then I lived in a room in Kart e Parwan where I did not pay rent but cooked, swept and washed dishes instead."
Elyas was born in 1991 in Khalyan village of Chah Aob district, Takhar province. He was six years old when he started at the village school. "I suffered many problems during my schooldays. We had serious financial troubles; my father had a small drug store and making ends meet was difficult."
On completing school in 2009, Elyas successfully sat for the entrance exam to university and got admission to the education faculty of Nangarhar University but he did not have money to go to Nangarhar. He thought he would learn English, and rented a room in Mairwais Maidan. When he asked his father for money to pay the rent, his father told him to come back home. "I don't have money to send you," his father said.
Elyas was determined to find a way, and decided to "seek work". Since he had worked with his father in a pharmacy, he went to Parwan market and found a job with a company called Afghan Pharma. "The company gave me 6,000 Afs (90 USD) monthly salary; I loaded and unloaded big cartons of medicines, and stayed with a man who had rented a room in Kart e Parwan. I cooked for him instead of paying a rent. I kept the room clean and prepared tea for him."
After six months of working, he realised he would never be able to make time for higher studies, which was the reason he had come to Kabul. "I gathered my goods, notebooks and books from the room and decided to go to the bus station and return to the village to help my father as working in Kabul was not getting me anywhere." But as luck would have it, he bumped into one of his friends who introduced him to Vida School where he was employed as a cleaner and guard, "The Vida School gave me 8,000 Afs (120 USD) salary per month. I asked the school administration to let me off for one hour every day to attend classes."
The administration, however, made him work seven days a week. After six months, he wrote the university admission exam and got into the agriculture faculty in Kunduz. In two months, he had run through his entire savings. "Even I did not have money to copy one chapter. I was frustrated, and left the university and went back home where I farmed for six months."
Elyas says his relatives advised him to go to Iran to find work but he was not ready to give up his dream of higher studies. "I told them I will study by any possible way." His fortunes changed when after five months of joblessness his friend in Kabul, Abaseen Baryal, found him work as a guard and cook at Nower, an office that used to publish the Mehwar (pivot) daily. "They had seen my honesty in Vida School and were satisfied with my work. They dismissed the former cook who was getting 150 USD and employed me for 200 USD."
Not only was he able to send money home, he was able to study: he learnt computer, administrative works, Pashtu language and typing at his new job. "Nower was nothing but a school for me as before this I was not able even to turn on the computer. But there I learned some administrative programmes too and after two years I enrolled in a three year medical nursing programme at the institute of Professor Gazanfar. I was determined to top the class, and graduated with full marks."
For three years he simultaneously worked at Nower and studied. His day began at 4 am and finished well past mid-night. "There were nights when I got only two or three hours of sleep," he recalls. He learnt how an office is run, how salaries are distributed, how tax is deducted, how to maintain relations with the donor and how to fill up the attendance sheet and other affairs of the staff. "At work I learned how an office is run; became a fast typist in both Dari and Pashtu. All this was besides my original work of being the office cleaner and guard. I learned how to organise files, prepare reports for the Ministry of Finance."
Before his graduation, he tried to establish his own NGO (non-governmental organisation). His work at Nower had introduced him to many people in the government and NGOs; members of Parliament and directors of organisations. His old friend Abaseen Baryal also was a great help. "I found two individuals to support me financially so I established the Afghanistan Development Organisation but we could not get any project and had to shut it down."
Elyas then created in Kabul an association of youths from Takhar. The association met with high ranking government officials, ministers and governors. On graduating he bid goodbye to Nower and tried to set up a medical institute. "I had saved 200,000 Afs (2,990 USD) in Nower. People laughed at me and said even a shop cannot be opened with the money I have."
But Elyas got a permit from the government to set up a medical institute thanks to the former governor of Takhar Abdul Jabar Taqwa who he says helped him a lot. With a friend who mortgaged his property worth 200,000 USD, the institute opened in a house rented for 100,000 Afs (1,495 USD). "We found some 200 students in a short time. We waived the fee of 50 poor students. In one and half years some 150 students graduated including the 50 poor students."
The institute has grown with 50 employees on the rolls at salaries that are higher than any other office in Takhar. He has rented a house next to the institute as a hostel for 50 poor rural students. "The institute has not suffered any loss yet. Our profits were 20,000 USD in the first year. They doubled in the second year and now it is much more."
As his life got better, he shifted his family from the village to Taluqan city. His brothers and sisters work as well as study at the institute. "I have four brothers and four sisters." He has set up a charity called Hayat (life), and provides financial assistance to schools, mosques and other public institutions. There is also a cultural and literary association for youth including university students.
He says he can understand people's problems because he has himself lived a hard life. He has never forgotten his past.
In appreciation, people have requested him to be their candidate in parliamentary elections whenever it is announced.