The first time I heard about this girl I was a junior in high school. My best friend, who loved books as much as I did, told me she had found a book so inspiring about a girl from Pakistan. I finally bought the book about a year later and I understood why it had left a mark on my friend. And as soon as I started reading I knew it would leave a permanent mark on me as well.
Malala Yousafzai was born in 1997, in Mingora, Swat, Pakistan. People felt sorry for her mother and no one congratulated her father; all because she was a girl. In her culture, having the first born being a boy is a blessing. Girls not so much. They are meant to stay home, raise kids and cook. But Malala’s father told everyone he knew that his girl was different.
Malala loved going to school since she was just a little girl. She used to go to a school for girls that her father ran; but all of her dreams came crumbling down when the Taliban took control over their town. All of the sudden, girls could not go to school anymore.
But Malala couldn’t just stay quiet. She stood up for herself and fought for her human right to get an education. She spoke against the Taliban, and this almost cost her her life. One morning, while Malala was on her way to school with other girls, their bus was intercepted. A man went inside the bus and asked: who’s Malala? No one answered, but some girls turned to look at her. She was the only one that didn’t have her face covered. Then, the man shot at her; the bullet went through the upper part of her left eye and went out through the lower part of her right shoulder. Malala was taken to England, where she was treated and after she recovered, she started a new life there, with her family.
On her website she says: “It was then that I knew I had a chance: I could live a quiet life or I could make the most of this new life I had been given. I am determined to continue my fight until every girl can go to school.”
It was her determination, along with the incredible support she got from her family, especially her dad, that lead her to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2014.
When I read her book “I am Malala”, I listed a few things I learned from her:
- Before judging people for their religion or the way they dress, inform yourself. Sometimes the news and other people make us believe in things that are not accurate. For example, many people have the misconception that people from Malala’s culture are evil. Yes, they have very different traditions that we don’t understand just like maybe they don’t understand ours. People get confused by everything they see on the news about the Taliban and other extremist groups. But they don’t define the rest of their people, just like a white, privileged and racist person doesn’t define all americans, and just like a ruthless drug lord doesn’t define the rest of Mexico and Colombia.
- We take our basic human rights for granted. As I was reading Malala’s endless fight for education, not only for herself but for all the girls in her situation, I realized that the rest of us, the ones that got access to school and healthcare and even just a home, we take all those things for granted. We want more, and that’s ok. It’s ok to be ambitious. But don’t forget to also be grateful, because one day it could all go away. Just like education and freedom was taken away from Malala.
- The love of those around you is your strength. What I admire the most about Malala’s story is how the role of her father in her life had to do with everything she is today. If she hadn’t had the support of her father from the beginning, since the day she was born and he decided that he was going to give her the same opportunities a boy would have, who knows if she would’ve had the tools and resources to become the voice of her generation. In an interview with Ellen DeGeneres she said: “Well, my father always says: ask me what I did, but ask me what I did not do, and I did not clip her wings. So he has not clipped my wings. He has allowed me to fly, as high as I can, and this is how we want parents to be, to allow their children to fulfill their dreams, to achieve who they want to be. It’s not that girls don’t have the skills or don’t have the talent to do something in their life. It’s that they are stopped in society. So my father did not do that, he did not stop me, and I’m so thankful to him. And also to my mother, for giving me the strength and the courage to go forward.”
- Every test that life gives you, is a blessing in disguise. On that same interview, Malala talked about her attack and how it made her stronger. “I think they made a big mistake (the Taliban), because I was fighting for the right of education right from the beginning when the Taliban stopped girls from going to school. But I had this little bit of fear of what would happen to me, how would I feel if someone attacks me. But after that incident, when I was attacked that fear just went away. And as I said in my speech at the United Nations, that my weakness, my fear, and my hopelessness died on that day. And I became stronger than before. And now I strongly believe that nothing can stop me in this mission and this campaign of education.”
- What happens in other countries affects you too. A few years ago I heard (then) President Obama give a speech where he said something about the young adults and the new generations. He said we are more educated and that we are more tolerant, more inclusive. He said that we have more compassion and empathy towards other human beings. “They have a unique understanding in the history of humanity: that their future is bound to the destiny of other human beings on the other side of the world”. I understood this because of Malala’s story. If we don’t care about problems happening in other countries, then we have no chance to rewrite history. There are places where child marriage is still legal, places where people still get the death penalty (by stoning) for being homosexuals; places where women are oppresed and can’t even go to school. There are places where kids die everyday of starvation and other places where they are killed because of wars. In my own country we have a major problem of insecurity (Being a Student in Mexico: They’re Killing Us). Remember: “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it”.
Malala is currently studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Oxford. And she keeps traveling all around the world, meeting girls fighting poverty, discrimination and wars so that they can continue their education. She also makes sure their story is told through the Malala Fund.
And to end this inspirational post, I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite quotes: