Last week, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai finished high school and celebrated her 20th birthday – less than five years after being shot in the head by the Taliban on her way home from school.
Yousafzai is a Pakastani student and education activist from the Swat District in Pakistan, where the Taliban had banned girls from attending school at various points in time. As a young girl, she wrote a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC, explaining her life under the Taliban, and the importance of girls education. On October 9th, 2012, she was shot in the head and neck in an assassination attempt by Taliban gunman while returning from home on a school bus, after taking an exam. Yousafzai came very close to death, but went on to make a full recovery. She finished her last day of secondary school in Birmingham, England, and spent her 20th birthday in Iraq. There, she visited Yazidi girls who had been released from captivity in Iraq and Syria, and heard about their dogged pursuit of education even in the direst of circumstances.
As far as activists go, Yousafzai is unwavering in her commitment to speak out against injustice and her support for education rights across the globe. As far as teenagers go, she is absolutely incredible. Less than a year after her injury, she spoke before the United Nations, not against the Taliban, but in support of the right of education for every child:
“Dear sisters and brothers, we realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced…The wise saying ‘The pen is mightier than the sword.” It is true. The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them…So let us wage, so let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism, let us pick up our books and our pens, they are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first."
Each of us is a part of this struggle for education. Yousafzai’s message is connected to our mission -- every child deserves and education, and as Yousafzai says, so shall we do – one child, one teacher, one book, and one pen at a time. When you find yourself looking for the meaning of our work, and wanting to connect your daily responsibilities to the larger world – read these words. Though Yousafzai could have resorted to revenge, to violence, to bitterness – she choose to be stronger because of it, and to use the attempt on her life for better. May we all have the strength to do this when we encounter hardship and violence in our own lives.
- Reshma Patel, Executive Director