Hussain – a beacon of hope for troubled Balochistan
By Malik Siraj Akbar
Ravaged by a low-level insurgency and several decades of negligence, Balochistan still houses a few motivated change-makers. Individuals count provided they are taken seriously. Take 37-year-old Zahir Hussain, for instance, of western border town of Panjgur. He has been striving for the promotion of education, particularly that of women’s in a society where educating daughters, like many other parts of the province, is to a large extent, considered incongruous to the entrenched local customs.
The past 14 years have been replete with daunting challenges for a man who single-handedly made up his mind to weed out illiteracy and educational backwardness from his locality. Being billed by the local clergy as a ‘western agent’ and promoter of ‘alien values’ were comparatively minor challenges for young Hussain who was also overtly threatened to stop his ‘objectionable’ educational activities in the Pak-Iran border town, a safe heaven for drug mafioso.
A trip to 100 percent Baloch populated Panjgur, 500 kilometres away from Quetta, on a broken kacha road is grisly. But the aromatic smell of the silent educational revolution that is gradually emerging in the hometown of around 300,000 people is remarkably stirring. Barring the provincial capital, Quetta, Panjgur today has surpassed every other district of Balochistan in the domain of education. The credit for this positive change, the local residents maintain, primarily goes to Hussain, whom they popularly call Sir Zahir Hussain for his educational services.
Starting his educational expedition in a rented building of two rooms, Hussain now runs the Oasis Academy, located in a huge two-storied educational complex. So far, as many as 20,000 boys and girls from this rural district of Balochistan, including other parts of Mekran region, have benefited from the academy where they are taught English, computer training and other science and arts subjects against a nominal fee.
Hussain, who studied in the US for three years under a USAID-sponsored programme in the early 1990s, decided that he would fight ignorance in Panjgur on his return. He realised English was the biggest barrier for students at higher-education level. Thus, he opened an English language centre. Initially, the centre catered to the needs of male students only and, more importantly, it was not taken very seriously. However, when male students of the centre excelled in the language course due to Hussain’s effective teaching techniques, more and more local people rushed to the institute.
Hussain tells Daily Times why he chose to start his mission with English-language teaching. “Even the brightest students used to fail in the competitive civil, medical and engineering exams due to poor command over English. I decided to grapple with challenge of English first,” he said.
Having produced hugely impressive results within a short time period, Hussain, consequently, decided to also open the doors of learning for the local girls. It was not that easy. “Even the local educated lot resisted the idea of their sisters and daughters being taught by a male teacher,” recalled Hussain.
Instead of losing hope, he implemented the proverbial adage ‘charity begins from home’ in practice. “The first class for female students at the institute was only attended by the girls of my own family,” he said. Though the beginning was, understandably, troublesome for Hussain, a lot of success awaited him. Examining the past 14 years, Hussain proudly claims more than 20,000 students, 50 percent of them Baloch girls, have passed out from the Oasis Academy.
The Oasis Academy did start as a language centre but today it entails one of the best English medium schools in Balochistan, a large English language centre, an equipped computer lab and a large library.