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A local hero

By Karlos Zurutuza

Emotion made me deaf; I couldnĀ“t even pay attention to the words the girls were reading, but I could see Amin nodding after every sentence. "What a great job he is doing," I thought. "What a great man he is."

Amin is an amazing man. I met him back in 2009, during a brief stopover in Khuzdar, a heavily militarized and violence-stricken spot in Balochistan. It was an unplanned encounter but we still spent around two hours together before I jumped on my bus bound for Karachi. Despite the short stay, that was one of my most memorable moments during my first visit to Balochistan.

Over a cup of tea inside his house, Amin told me that had spent several years involved in Baloch politics. For years, he had tried to convince Baloch leaders to set up new schools in Khuzdar. "Education is the crux of the matter for us, for everybody, but some people seem not to understand this," insisted Amin.

When we consider that many people in this gas rich region still cook with dung and that water supplies are scarce, and sometimes even radioactive due to nuclear testing, schools may look like infrastructures of lesser importance. Thus, Amin's plea to build schools was never heard by Islamabad, nor did well-off local tribal leaders lift a finger to tackle one of their people's biggest problems. The illiteracy rate climbs well over 70% among the Baloch - the highest rate in the entire country of Pakistan. I guess uneducated people are more servile and never ask uncomfortable questions.

So Amin decided to quit politics. He borrowed some money to buy a piece of land next to his house and raised a humble building on it during his free time with the help of friends and relatives. He would build and run a school by himself: "Habib Grammar School." Amin also had his own job so classes started in the afternoon, after work. That day he had an English class and he invited me to join him. "The kids will be happy to meet you," he said.

There were five girls in the class, ages 12 to 14. I recall a couple of them were Baloch and there was also a Punjabi and two Pashtuns. All of them said they loved English. I wish I could remember their names but I forgot to write them down.

Amin had given them a composition as homework the day before and, one by one, the girls stood up to read their pieces. They were visibly shy, but none of them would miss the opportunity to read their pieces to their first "Englishman" ever, despite myself being a Basque from Spain.

They all read their drafts slowly, watching their pronunciation with great care, as if they were reading a sacred text. The rest kept a revered silence. Emotion made me deaf; I couldn't even pay attention to the words the girls were reading, but I could see Amin nodding after every sentence. "What a great job he is doing," I thought. "What a great man he is."

I recall that moment as if the world had stopped turning for a few minutes: there was no war in Balochistan. No tortured, no disappeared. No drama . . .

Immediately after class, Amin took me to the bus station. Before I jumped on the bus to Karachi, someone shot an AK-47 four times in the air to greet a relative who was leaving too. Amin looked at me with an uncomfortable smile on his face and talked about future plans for his school. That was his way to hide the constant sound of war in his hometown.

Karlos Zurutuza is a freelance journalist covering off-the-radar conflict regions in the Caucasus and Central Asia. He was awarded the Nawab Bugti Reporting Award 2009 for his reporting on the Baloch areas in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.