Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The bravest girl on the planet

Portrait of Malala Yousafzai by artist Penelope Dullaghan
for Save the Children. (

Malala Yousafzai is my hero. 

I've been following the 16-year-old education and women's rights activist ever since I watched New York Times journalist Adam B. Ellick's fantastic documentary, "Class Dismissed," which profiles the life of this extraordinary human being.

At an age when most young girls are on the brink of puberty and concerning themselves with boys, cliques and what to wear, then 11-year-old Malala took on the Taliban -- with her words. She wrote a blog for the BBC chronicling the Taliban's attempt to take control of her home, the town of Mingora in the Swat District of Pakistan. She shared her views about every child's right to an education (the Taliban had already blown up more than a hundred girls' schools). She spoke against the group's systematic reign of terror (it was commonplace to find the bodies of beheaded dissenters hanging in town squares). 

Malala got noticed. People around the world read her blog. She gave interviews in print and on television. The New York Times filmed a documentary about her. She was nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize by South African activist Desmond Tutu.

The Taliban noticed, too. Something had to be done, their leaders argued. So they unanimously agreed to kill her. Malala was on her way back home from school when Taliban gunman shot her in the head at point-blank range.

"Dear friends, on the 9th of October, 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too," Malala said on the world stage at the United Nations on July 12, which was also her 16th birthday. "They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed."

"And out of that silence came thousands of voices," she continued. "The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions. But nothing changed in my life, except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born."

In her moving speech, Malala said she had no desire for revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. "I do not even hate the Talib who shot me," she said. "Even if there was a gun in my hand and he stands before me, I would not shoot him."

Speaking not for herself but for those without a voice, "those who have fought for their rights-- their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated," Malala urged world leaders to introduce "free, compulsory education" for all children across the globe and added that "all peace deals must protect women's and children's rights. A deal that goes against the rights of women is unacceptable." 

Watch her speech at the UN. This girl is changing the world.