If it weren’t for education …

Syed Ali Shah

All my life, I have tried to make my voice heard and striven to ensure the voiceless of society get a hearing too. The latter cause, I see as a major rationale for my existence as growing up I myself was very poor. I was born in one of the poorest families in Killi Jangle Toorkhail Syedan near the Afghan border in 1978. My father Syed Abdul Baqi, a daily wage earner, spent his whole life doing manual labour to provide for his family. Despite his circumstances, he remained determined that my brother and I got an education.

I was enrolled in the government masjid primary school Toorkhail  in 1983 in Class One. Interestingly, it was the same year the school was established in a mud-walled room owned by one of the villagers. This was when thousands of Afghan refugees were being settled in the Jangle Pir Alizai refugee camp near my village. The Afghan war had far-reaching impact on my village and surrounding areas: heroin and kalashnikov culture, coupled with religious extremism, were being introduced to our society.

Our school comprised a mud-plastered room donated by a villager. Master Noorullah Kakar from Khanozai area of Pishin district, where the literacy is still roughly more than 90 percent, was our first teacher. The teacher used to beat us a lot and we used to cry. I thought this torture system would continue forever. However, we heaved a sigh of relief when Master Noorullah was replaced by another teacher Gul Muhammad who had done his Masters in Arts. Mr Gul Muhammad was a polite person and used to teach us without beating us. I remained a position holder in my class till primary level.

After passing primary level, I got admission in the Government Middle School, in Killi Chur Badizai, located almost two kilometres north of my village. Mr Khalil, who is currently professor of English in the Science College, Quetta, deserves to be congratulated for teaching me the basics, the ABC, of English.

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For three years, I studied in Killi Chur Badizai middle school and then I came to study in Class IX in Quetta’s Sandeman High school. I was given G section of Cass IX and Mr Shams was my teacher. The class was over-crowded with almost 80 students at one time. I barely managed to pass Class IX since the Urdu language, coupled with English, was quite challenging for me. So, I went to Pir Alizai high school for Class X.  I somehow managed to matriculate from there. I used to bicycle for one and half hour every day to reach Killi Pir Alizai high school. It was a tougher journey than it sounds as the bicycle was in an extremely poor condition.

After matriculation, I followed in my father´s footsteps and started working as a labourer but continued my education, passing my FA exams from the Balochistan Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education, Quetta. Next, I passed my BA exams from the University of Balochistan in 1998.

In 1999, I was appointed as a junior English teacher in the District Pishin of Balochistan. I taught students in middle school killi Manzaki in the district Pishin for more than two months and then I got myself transferred to Chur Badizai middle school where I used to be a student once. I taught there for few months and then suddenly 3,000 teachers were terminated on the order of Balochistan High Court. I was one of them. My heart sank since my whole family was financially dependent on me.

I made my way to Quetta to protest and mount pressure on the authorities to reinstate me. I was elected as the vice chairman of the sacked teachers’ action committee. I was part of this struggle, when one day Azhar Sahab, the general manager of Jang, saw me outside his newspaper’s office. He called me in and asked the reason for my protest. I narrated the ordeal before him. He promised to find me employment in a newspaper.

His efforts bore fruit. I was appointed as circulation assistant in the daily Balochistan Times. In BT, I continued my studies I completed my MA in literature. I got 3rd position in the Balochistan University exams during the year 2,000. I used to look after the distribution of newspaper throughout Balochistan. But one day, I drew the attention of Muhammad Kazim Mengal, a veteran and respected journalist of Quetta when I translated an Urdu item into English. That was my day. Mr Mengal encouraged me to continue my path and try my hand at journalism. Despite all odds, I became a reporter for the first and oldest daily English newspaper of Balochistan, the BT, at the end of 2002. For two years, I made my name in the journalists´ community and was offered a job as a stringer in Al Jazeera TV. I accepted the offer. I worked in AJ for four years and resigned on March 12, 2007 when I was appointed as reporter in DawnNews, the first English Satellite TV channel of Pakistan. Since then, I have been given more responsibility and currently serve as DawnNews Bureau Chief in Quetta. I also contribute to various international media organisations including CNN, TRT and Al-Jazeera English on major news stories from Balochistan.

As Bureau Chief of DawnNews, promoting the cause of education and highlighting related issues has been my first priority. I have filed critical, investigative and human interest stories focusing on the state of education in Balochistan. From extreme poverty to now being in a position to earn not just a decent living but also being respected for my work, has only been made possible by education. That is why I strive no matter how humbly to serve the cause of education and return my debt.

Syed Ali Shah is a journalist, analyst and researcher


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