A classroom of students learns at the new elementary school for poor children opened by Moraine Valley Community College retiree and current adjunct professor Dr. Shaheen Sayeed (not pictured).

Education for everyone is high on the list of priorities for Dr. Shaheen Sayeed. The Moraine Valley Community College retiree and current adjunct professor of Communications/Literature helped raise funds for a new college near her hometown in India as well as started an elementary school for poor children in that same vicinity.

Dr. Sayeed has worked with Indian Muslim Relief and Charities (IMRC) for the last 30 years. When IMRC started an education project, she chaired a committee to help raise funds to support the Jahangirabad Institute of Technology in Barabanki, India, roughly 300 miles east of New Delhi in the north. The university opened five years ago in a neglected 19th century fort. Located in a remote place, accessibility is a challenge, but 500 to 600 students are enrolled, and the school is growing.

Every year Dr. Sayeed returns to India for three weeks to promote the school and contribute in some capacity. Currently she is raising funds for a hostel to house young women who will study and live at the institution.

“This school is 17 miles from the city in which I lived—Lucknow. IMRC got me involved, and I’ve been trying to help. I’ve held concerts, I’m raising funds and promoting the school,” Dr. Sayeed said.

For her efforts, Dr. Sayeed was awarded the IMRC Distinguished Service Award on Sept. 4 at the group’s annual luncheon in Chicago.

Dr. Sayeed also opened an elementary school for poor children last year in the manor house where her grandfather and great-grandfather were landlords in Sathrik, India. Named after her mother, the Ahmadi Akbar Warsi School, has six teachers and nearly 200 students between 3 and 12 years old (up to fifth grade).

“In early January 2015, I visited our ancestral village manor some 12 years after the passing of my parents and found it in ruins. The village children, out of curiosity, came crowding in to meet me and my son. It was 11:10 a.m., and I asked the children why they were not in school. They laughed at my question. They told me there are lots of children who want to go but can’t afford to go to school. That moment the idea took root. Why not start a free school here for these poor children?” she explained.

Initially students attended for free, but Dr. Sayeed has since had to charge up to the equivalent of $1 per month for school maintenance and care of the children. Dr. Sayeed pays the teacher salaries, which are much lower than in the U.S., but the principal is a volunteer.

“This is a marvel because it started from scratch. There is not much education for the poor. These kids have never had a chance to go to school. They know nothing. It doesn’t matter at what age you come, we’ll teach reading, writing and math. They want to learn,” she said. “They’re making great progress. You’d be amazed at how quick they learn. It’s absolutely mind boggling.”