Malala (I will keep writing her name in this article, as I just love the way it sounds like), lived in a place where education is not a right or a service, but is a battle. Children and teenagers there are forced to fight for education and need to overcome obstacles, which are sometimes fatal, to reach schools.
Opposing groups, such as the Taliban, closed down schools that opened in Swat, a place in Pakistan where Malala used to live. However, this did not stop Malala. It seems like she gets this strong willed attitude from her father, a well-known education activist who built schools but they were sadly shut down. After continuous struggles with the Taliban authorities, Malala and her friends kept on attending school even though the Taliban have issued a warning that all female schools should close immediately.
She had constructed a blog of her own, but with an anonymous identity under the name ‘Diary of a Pakistani Schoolgirl’ (I really advise you to take a look at it). Malala was also outspoken about the Taliban’s violent efforts to close schools and sometime in 2009 she appeared as a guest on a television show to discuss this and advocate education. In 2012, the worst days of Taliban power had receded. A high-profile military operation had cleared out most militants but others had stayed behind, keeping a low profile. This was a risky time for anyone who was threatened by them.
9/10/2012: A normal day for Malala, going to school, having exams and then catching up with her friend on the school bus as they headed back home. Minutes later, the bus stopped, and two young men barged in (in one interview, Malala described the men as ‘boys’), screaming angrily: WHO IS MALALA? They then, after she was identified by the innocent looks and stares of her fellow schoolgirls, put a gun near her head and shot. It seems that the bullet they shot was not of lead, but a bullet that supplied her with even more enthusiasm, passion, perseverance, commitment and advocacy.
She was invited, a year after her miraculous survival, in celebration of her 16th birthday, to speak at the United Nations Youth Assembly, naming that day “Malala Day”. One of the most powerful parts of her speech was: “We realise the importance of light when we see darkness. We realise the importance of our voice when we are silenced. In the same way, when we were in Swat, the north of Pakistan, we realised the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns.”
I have never considered myself lucky for having been offered an education, it is really a blessing that we learn not to appreciate but nag about. Malala was literally shot in the head for asking to go to school while I remember dragging myself out of bed in the morning hoping the school will shut down for the day. See the difference? After listening to her story and her powerful message, I understood that education is something that has been taken for granted by a lot of people, including myself. We sometimes disregard its importance and deal with it as part of our daily routine. This should change. We should appreciate the books we have to read and the teachers available to help us. We should support education all around the world and do whatever we can to ensure that every child out there is receiving this precious gift. We should all be Malalas!
It is not the fact that Malala has been shot that makes her this special. It is her answer to Jon Stewart when he asked her what she thought about the Taliban threatening her before they shot her. Malala gave him an answer that demonstrates her utter humanity and reflects what kind of person she is. Her answer?
“I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, ‘If he comes, what would you do Malala?’ then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’ But then I said, ‘If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.’ Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well.’ And I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.”
Yes, Malala did not win the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, but she has definitely won the hearts of millions.