Malala pledges ‘second life’ to education for all
On October 9th, assassins boarded a Pakistani school bus and shot 15-year-old Malala in the head for defending education. Somehow she survived – and has now sworn to continue her struggle.
‘Today you can see that I’m alive,’ says Malala Yousafzai, clasping her hands. ‘Today I can speak and I’m getting better day by day.’ They are simple words, but the story behind them makes them nothing less than remarkable.
Four months ago, Malala was on her way to school in the Swat Valley, Pakistan, when her bus was halted by masked gunmen. ‘Which one is Malala?’ shouted one. ‘Speak up, or I will kill you all!’ A crowd of fearful fingers pointed to a small 15-year-old girl, and the men opened fire. One bullet struck her shoulder, another her neck. A third passed straight through her brain.
Malala’s attackers were militants from the Taliban, a notorious Islamic fundamentalist movement which terrorises Swat. Wherever they can gain control, the Taliban impose an ultra-conservative version of Islamic law with terrifying cruelty; among the many things they seek to ban is female education.
In Swat, any girl who walks through the school gates is taking a dreadful risk. ‘We are very afraid of the Taliban,’ said Malala before the attack. ‘He will kill us. He will throw acid in our face. He can do anything.’ But Malala did more than just continue going to school: she spoke out against the Taliban, led campaigns for female education and documented her struggle in a blog for the BBC.
When news of the shooting broke, it looked like Malala’s bravery had cost her her life. Four days after, some doctors rated her chance as ‘slim’. But she clung on, and on October 15th she was flown to Britain for further treatment.
Gradually, amazingly, Malala recovered. Within two days she awoke from her coma. A week after that, she was walking. On January 3rd she was released from hospital, and this week, she greeted the world on television for the first time since the attack.
She gave thanks for the support she has received. But her message was also a rallying call: ‘I want every girl, every child to be educated.’ This goal will now be pursued by an international charity bearing her name: the Malala Fund.
Education for all
Malala is clearly a courageous girl. The brutal attack has left her with psychological and physical scars that may never heal, and her attackers swear they will strike again. But still she continues her campaign, undeterred. Should we not all feel ashamed at how complacent we are in comparison?
Maybe: after all, Malala was fighting for something which we all take for granted, and which many of us even grumble about. But on the other hand, the comparative pettiness of our complaints is a sign of the precious freedoms we enjoy. Malala is a hero, but she would probably rather be an ordinary schoolgirl with ordinary problems: we should work for a world where martyrs are no longer needed.
- Malala is completely devoted to creating a world in which education is available to all. If you were to give your life to a cause, what would it be and how would you go about serving it?
- Have the freedoms and privileges of modern life made us spoiled?
- Schools around the world have been writing ‘letters to Malala’, telling her how her story has affected them. Write your own letter to Malala.
- Research women’s education and design a leaflet on behalf of the Malala Fund encouraging people to donate.
Some People Say...
“My purpose is to serve humanity.’Malala Yousafzai”
What do you think?
Q & A
- School is the worst! How can anybody be so obsessed with it?
- Malala once dreamed of being a doctor. Now, she wants to change the world by going into politics. If she is denied an education, these options would be closed off and only one will remain: to marry young and rely on male family for financial support. And as a classmate said, ‘every girl in Swat is Malala.’
- But I’ve never even heard of Swat until now.
- It’s not only Swat: worldwide, roughly 40% of people of secondary school age are not in education, and the majority of those are women. That’s not just a problem for the deprived individuals, but for the entire world: there is very strong evidence that female education is one of the greatest contributors to a country’s economic wellbeing and average quality of life.
- Swat Valley
- Swat is a scenically breathtaking region in the northeast of Pakistan surrounded by mountains and waterfalls. But since 2002, this ‘Paradise on Earth’ has been plagued by an ongoing battle between Islamist militants and the Pakistani army, constantly changing hands amid violence and terror. Malala’s father is a prominent campaigner for peace and education in Swat.
- Pakistan was formed in 1947 as a ‘Muslim state’, splitting from the former British colony of India, where most people were Hindus. With a population of 180m, it is the sixth most populous country in the world. But the nation struggles with corruption, political instability and educational disadvantage – only 60% of Pakistani women today are literate.
- Campaigns for female education
- In 2009, when she was 12 years old, Malala chaired a regional meeting of a UNICEF-backed project to give voices to young children in the Swat region. Later, she participated in a nationwide campaign to bring discussion of current affairs into schools.
- Malala Fund
- The Malala Educational Fund is organised by Vital Voices, which promotes the work of ‘extraordinary women’. Its first campaign aims to provide ‘safe places’ for girls around the world who want to escape domestic labour and receive an education.