In a bright pink t-shirt that reads "Peace begins with me," Muhammad Nawaz would have a hard time fading into the background even if he wasn't famous. But he is. To the children at the Government Primary School in Sherpur, Pakistan, this 60-year-old teacher is a celebrity.
To add to the legend, he calls himself Zero Meter.
On any given day, follow the sound of cheers and laughter, and you're likely to find the illustrious instructor-in-pink, teaching his class through games and play.
"My classroom is a fun place, where children come happily,'' says Zero.
A Right To Play-trained teacher, Zero has become so passionate for his work that he organizes sport tournaments at his own initiative, and even uses sport and play to spread awareness in the community on different issues.
"And isn't he fabulous?" says Ali Khayam of Right To Play Pakistan. "His spirit and energy are so encouraging for everyone."
But it wasn't always this way.
A veteran teacher of 30 years, Zero says from the beginning of his career he wanted his students to be competent, hardworking, well-disciplined and high academic achievers.
''I used to work very hard with my class and used all those methods which I had seen my teachers use and that all my colleagues were using, but to be honest, those techniques never worked to any good,'' says Zero.
"Several times I thought 'why are children not able to read and write? And why are they not completing or doing their assignments properly?' I was totally confused about what was the problem with my teaching."
Finally Zero – then still know as Nawaz – turned to punishment.
The students became afraid of their teacher, hesitant to ask any questions or share their ideas. Absenteeism increased, and despite meeting with parents, classes became a tedious chore for both Zero and his pupils.
And then something happened.
On October 8, 2005, the Mansehra district of Pakistan was struck by a devastating 7.6 Richter earthquake. More than 70,000 people were killed, and hundreds of thousands were left homeless.
More than 6,000 schools and colleges crumbled under the strength of the quake.
''After the earthquake in 2005, which decimated our villages and took our loved ones – many of them children – we saw flocks of development missions and NGOs, both national and international, coming for rescue and rehabilitation," says Zero. "When I first saw Right To Play staff on the premises of this school I didn't pay much attention to it.''
A Right To Play Coach began running daily activities for children in the school in July 2008. At first, Zero – still going by Nawaz at this point – considered play at school a waste of time. Then one day he began a health lesson and discovered his students were eager to share answers they had already learned through Right To Play.
"This was astonishing news for me – that children have not only learned from game activities in an excellent way, but also shared with me confidently, which I could not see in my students ever before," he says.
"After that day I decided to participate in Right To Play activities to know what is the magic."
Zero, along with other teachers, joined a Right To Play training session to learn how to teach using different games and activities, how to engage students through discussion, and how to include everyone. The trainees learned how to relate to children, how to talk them politely, listen to their issues, and teach them according to their needs.
"That week-long training overshadowed my 30-year-long teaching career."
And that's when he decided to change his name.
Zero meter is a term used locally for brand new cars, as their mileage meter shows all zeroes – the very beginning.
"Now I feel as if I am reborn, not only as a teacher, but as a human being as well," says Zero. "I have a desire to do more for these children and to use Right To Play's methodology and also spread it to other teachers.
"The same children who used to cry while coming to school now have smile on their faces while entering my class."