Malala Yousafzai

14 Jun

“They cannot stop me. I will get my education if it is my home, school or any place. This is our request to all the world. Save our schools. Save our world. Save our Pakistan. Save our Swat.” – Malala Yousafzai

From the above quote and if it not for the reference to her education, anybody would think that Malala Yousafzai was a mature adult. So for those of you who do not know who this incredible person is, she is Pakistani girl of the mere age of 15. She fights for things we take for granted and most of you will remember her for being shot in the head by the Taliban when she was 15 years of age. Here is her story…

Yousafzai was born on 12th July 1997 and grew up in the Pakistani town of Mingora in the Swat District of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Unfortunately, her childhood was unlike ours and being a woman in Pakistan meant enduring many hardships that we are only too lucky not to face. However, Malala was born into a family whose values did not mirror that of the Taliban and she was educated well by her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, who runs a chain of schools, one of which was attended by Malala. He referred to her as special and he was right.

Swat Valley, like other places in Pakistan at the time, was being taken over by the Taliban under rule of Maulana Fazlullah. They were banning simple things that we have everyday access to, such as DVD’s, television, music and shockingly girls’ education. It sounds so backwards because we are lucky enough to have grown up with the ability to learn and I don’t know about you but education is something I’ve always considered a right as opposed to a privilege. I have a right to learn and Malala shared this view and started campaigning for education rights in 2008 when her father took her to a local press club.

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She said “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education” and continued to state that she would never bow down to Taliban rule. This was covered by news everywhere and everyone listened to her story.

I have to remind you that at the time she said this, she was 11 years old…

When I was 11 years old I was cutting out pictures of Westlife from the coolest teenage magazine of the moment. I am embarrassed to admit that and if any of you repeat that to anyone we will be having words. But that’s how different our childhoods were; problems for me at that age were things like not being allowed out to play later that 7:30pm or my favourite TV show being cancelled. It’s wrong really to think that I saw them as issues when there are children, like Malala, who are desperate for the things we take for granted.

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So, as you can gather this girl is pretty special and following on from her 2008 press coverage, Malala had an opportunity to reach out to people everywhere when she was asked to write a secret diary for the BBC about life for women under Taliban rule. Obviously, this was a very dangerous and risky decision but this girl has an inner strength that I envy, she was risking her life for the sake of getting her message across to the world. Due to this high safety risk, the BBC insisted she blog under a pseudonym name “Gul Makai” and her first entry was posted on 3rd January 2009. The beauty of her blog was that her entries were hand written to be given to reporters to scan and email them in. This makes her situation in my eyes to be more real because of the intimacy of her own handwriting. Snippets from the blog can be found on the BBC website. She’s kind of like the modern day Anne Frank, don’t you think?

Life under Taliban rule was worsening when they banned all girls from attending school after 15th January 2009. They were deadly serious and this was shown through their actions of blowing up more than 100 girls’ schools. She was told by her principal to wear plain clothes to avoid attracting attention.

The ban continued, as did her diary entries but on 21st February, after many peace rallies and protests, the Taliban announced that the ban on women’s education was to be lifted until exams on 17th March 2009.

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This was short lived as peace deals were breaking down and the town’s people were living in tremendous fear, and her blog ended on 12th March 2009. The following month, a Taliban group stated that women aren’t allowed to attend their jobs or markets. The situation was dire and the Yousafzai family were forced to evacuate the town until further notice. Malala’s father was involved in activism to restore the Swat Valley and she was deeply inspired by his work. He is a great role model to his daughter but her strength and passion comes from inside her.

She became involved with various documentaries and interviews regarding her situation, and BBC articles were revealing her blogging identity at the end of 2009. Both her and her father’s actions were becoming recognised and they were slowly becoming viewed as a threat to the Taliban regime.

Her passion and determination to see things through until the end is an admirable quality for someone of her age. Her activism continued with her involvement in the Institute for War and Peace Reporting’s “Open Minds” project, throughout 2010 and 2011, she was Chair of District Child Assembly Swat which was set up to allow children to voice their opinions on their rights and gain enough coverage to make a difference. She was just 13 going on 14, and I know I keep drawing attention to her age but it’s more to remind myself if anything because whilst writing this article I keep thinking I am writing about the long life of an adult political activist because she had already achieved so much is such a short space of time.

Malala became a high risk target when she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2011 and she became a celebrity in Pakistan after being awarded the National Youth Peace Prize in December that year. The Taliban were known to attack civilians who speak out against them and she began receiving death threats but despite this she vowed never to stop working for education for girls. I am so touched by her story because facing that level of danger at the age of 14 is not only unheard of but also with her being a child, it would be assumed that she would be petrified and stop defying to Taliban but if anything these threats pushed her to work harder.

After her refusal to stop, the Taliban agreed in the summer of 2012 to kill her and Malala simply stated:

“I think of it often and imagine the scene clearly. Even if they [the Taliban] come to kill me, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong, that education is our basic right.” (Reported in The New Yorker.)

The Taliban were being serious and on 9th October 2012 when Malala was just 15 years old, a Taliban gunman shot Yousafzai in the head on her way home from an exam. The bullet went through her head, neck and ended up in her shoulder.

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With that kind of a wound, she should be dead. But she is still very much alive.

After extensive medical treatment provided in Peshawar, the bullet was removed and there was no sign of paralysis or serious brain damage. She was moved to Rawalpindi and before long she was moving all four limbs and on 15th October 2012 she was moved to the UK for further treatment. Malala was released from hospital on 3rd January 2013 and continues to recover at her temporary home in the UK.

It’s been 7 months since the assassination attempt and she is still a child. She is nearly 16 and has so far been through more than you and I could even imagine. Her hardships and her life of fear is something that could easily spiral someone into a black abyss of depression, anxiety, and fear. Not Malala, she is different and her experiences have only made her stronger. She continues to work with political activists to achieve what she set out to achieve, a basic right to education.

Her fame has provided her with a platform to be a voice for change and she has even launched a charity to fund girls’ education and the first grant will fund education of 40 girls in Pakistan.

This video is an insight into her life after the attack and her announcement of her future plans for the education of children. That’s just the start and again she is 15 so has many years left to make changes.

In this video a reporter translates something Malala has very bravely said:

“I would be willing to sacrifice myself again.”

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She is the most selfless young girl I have every come across and call it fate, call it coincidence but this girl was not meant to die. She is here for a reason and instead of being selfish with her second chance at life; she is spending it devoting herself to the rights of others.

Malala Yousafzai is a phenomenal figure and her actions up until this point prove that she fears nothing and will risk her life again and again to make sure she achieves what she originally set out to achieve.

If this is how she spent her childhood, I cannot wait to see what she does next. I have the upmost respect for her and she is a great role model for all of us to follow.

“Do not be afraid; our fate cannot be taken from us; it is a gift.” – Dante Alighieri, Inferno

About the writer: Melody has just finished a degree in Journalism, Film and Media with a 2:1. She aspires to work with vulnerable women and children subject to domestic, and or other forms of abuse. She is an animal lover and has a small obsession with Fearne Cotton. She is a constant joker and can be found on Twitter.

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