Today is the 18th birthday of Malala Yousafzai. It also marks “Malala Day”, an education awareness event.
When the Taliban outlawed education for girls in her home of Swat Valley, Pakistan, she went from ordinary student to intractable advocate for universal education. Despite direct death threats, Malala, who was just 11 years old at the time, continued attending classes and anonymously blogged about her experiences for the BBC.
On Oct. 9, 2012, a Taliban member nearly succeeded in killing Malala, when he shot her in the head while she was riding home from school. She had come to represent something dangerous to the militant fundamentalist group. Malala underwent numerous surgeries in the U.K., which included having her skull reconstructed.
But throughout her ordeal, she refused to harbor ill will toward the terrorist group or her shooter. She instead advocated for a peaceful response: “You must not treat others with cruelty,” she told Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show, “You must fight others through peace and through dialogue and through education.”
Malala is a devout Muslim and has reminded the world that Islam is not synonymous with violence. Speaking of Islamic terrorism, she said, “They think that God is a tiny, little conservative being who would send girls to the hell just because of going to school. The terrorists are misusing the name of Islam and Pashtun society for their own personal benefits.” When the terrorist group, Boko Haram, kidnapped around 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria last year, Malala called for them to return the “sisters”: “I think that they should think of these girls as their own sisters. How can one imprison his own sisters and treat them in such a bad way?”
At the same time, Malala took a stand with President Obama, when she met with him last year, on the day he declaring October 13 as the International Day of the Girl. The two discussed education and girls’ rights, but Yousafzai also unabashedly spoke out about her opposition to drones. “I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism,” she told the Associated Press. “Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact.”
Malala rallied the U.N. on her 16th birthday, 2 years ago, when she outlined her every plan to extend education to the 57 million children who are out of school around the world. “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world,” she said, “Education is the only solution.” The U.N. then unveiled the Global Education First Initiative, a project that aims to bring quality and inclusive education to all.
Malala continues to raise money to bring education to every boy and girl across the globe, including the children of Syrian refugees in Lebanon which, prior to the civil war, boasted primary school enrollment and literacy rates were over 90 percent.
Last year, Malala was nominated for the Noble Peace Prize for her courageous commitment to the right of girls to education.
To help Malala Yousafzai fulfill her mission to bring universal education to every child, you can donate to the Malala Fund. Also visit Girl Rising, which seeks to break cycles of poverty in just one generation by educating millions of girls worldwide.