On Malala Day, we celebrate the young leader, role model and Nobel Peace Prize winner as she turns 19

On Malala Day, we celebrate the young leader, role model and Nobel Peace Prize winner as she turns 19

Tuesday July 12, 2016,

7 min Read

Most children her age would think about boyfriends, hanging out in the Mall and watching movies with friends, and sharing snap chat videos of all the cool things that they do. Not Malala Yousafzai. She definitely has more on her plate.

Malala, when she was 11 and 12 years old wrote blogs for BBC Urdu, under a false name, about the conditions in Pakistan under the Taliban. Malala has been a champion of peace, women rights and education for all children.

Murals dedicated to Malala in Rome


Born in 1997, named after Malalai of Maiwand, a famous Pashtu poetess and warrior woman from southern Afghanistan, the name Malala means grief-stricken. But Malala says, to the contrary, that she is “a very happy girl.”

In 2012, when she was 15, the Taliban shot her in the head while on the bus to school. She survived and was moved to a hospital in Birmingham to recover.

She has many firsts to her credit too. She was the first Pashtun, the first Pakistani and the youngest person to receive a Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. In her acceptance speech for the Noble Prize, which she shared with Kailash Satyarthi of India, she said – “I tell my story not because it is unique but because it isn’t. It is the story of many other girls.”

Third from left at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony

She dedicated her award to children in need of education. “This award is for those forgotten children who want education, for those frightened children who want peace and for those voiceless children who want change. I am here to stand up for their rights. Raise a voice so it becomes the last time we see a child deprived of education.”

On her 16th birthday, she gave a speech at the United Nations. Her birthday, 12th July was declared as Malala Day by the United Nations.

Malala is also a millionaire. Her book sales and her speaking assignments have been the primary source of this wealth.

Today as Malala turns 19, we look at how this young millionaire, who prefers calculus and chemical formulae as henna designs instead of the traditional flowers and butterflies inspires us.

Have the courage to speak up

Over the years in the public eye and in the face of the media and the world, she has continued to support and fight for women’s issues, peace and education for all children.

She spent her 17th birthday in Nigeria to show solidarity with the schoolgirls abducted from their dormitory by Boko Haram militants. She wrote, “Those girls were my age and all had dreams of being doctors or teachers or scientists. They were very brave and special girls, as only four per cent of girls in northern Nigeria finish school. The world moves easily on to other issues and I don’t want people to forget.”

Malala’s portrait at the Noble Peace Center

The world will move on, but if you want to change something then you need to speak up and have the courage to stand up for what you believe in.

Don’t ever give up, if you want it enough it will happen

Malala spoke up for education for all children and peace early on in life. Her experiences as a young girl under the Taliban regime, where education was threatened made her realise the value of education and peace.

She has been single minded and devoted to her cause for education. After she was shot and survived, the world came to support her and show their solidarity with her fight for education. In 2012, Gordon Brown, former British Prime Minister and UN Special Envoy for Global Education visited her in the hospital and launched a petition in her name.  “I am Malala”, was the slogan that was used. The petition’s demand was to ensure that no child be left out of school by 2015. The attack on Malala and the petition prompted Pakistan to create their first ever Right to Education Bill.

Malala on a special visit to Strasbourg in 2013

Across the world, celebrities, influencers and world leaders including the United Nations have acknowledged and applauded her efforts.

If you believe in something strongly and work hard to make it happen, the challenges will disappear and before you know it, support will come in from unexpected corners.

Stay focused on your goal

The attainment and prevalence of education and peace are Malala’s primary goals. It is something that she has never lost sight of. Through the fund, she has campaigned for education for Syrian refugees in Jordan and started projects in Pakistan, Kenya and Nigeria. She writes, “I have spoken to world leaders and encouraged them to raise the education budgets of their countries and pushed powerful nations to give greater education but I know there is so much left to do. I thank God that I have been given this platform to campaign for. This is now my life’s work, my mission and my dream.”

In the face of success, it is easy to lose sight of one’s goal, but it is essential to not waver, not stray but stay on course with what you started in the first place- your original goal.

Giving is important

This young woman carries a lot on her shoulders, but as a young leader and role model who has received tremendous support from the world, she is doing her bit to help others.

When Malala gets prizes she sends them to the Swat district to help children get an education or adults to startup some small business so they can support their families. With the Malala Fund, she has been doing a lot in Kenya, especially in Masai Mara. All the older Masai aren’t educated but their children are now going to school.

Malala at the White House with the Obamas

Whether you are an influencer, a leader or someone without influence, giving has to come from the heart. Those who have little to give often give the most, be it in terms of time, money, energy or emotional support. Case in the point is an anecdote Malala shares in her book about a person from Japan who wanted to help. “We have received many letters, even one from an elderly man in Japan who wrote, ‘I am an old poor man but I want to help,’ and he sent us a note for 10,000 yen without a return address so that we could thank him.”

Malala has been the recipient of more than 40 awards and has even been awarded an honorary doctorate degree from the University of King’s College.

Though she is girl who was shot down by the Taliban and survived, and is a young leader and activist, she is also a refugee. In her book, her longing for her homeland is visible.

In talking about herself and her journey, while Malala talks about her big dream and goals for education for all, she also points out that she is like any other young girl. A young girl who likes to indulge in school gossip, fight with her brothers over an ipod and has a messy room, loves Physics, and is competitive when it comes to exam. So while many things have changed, some things have remained the same for her.

As she beautifully sums it up – “I am Malala. My world has changed but I have not.”

(All image credit – wikipedia)