Ask yourself this very simple question.
What were you doing when you were 15 on your way to school?
If you’re lucky, your parents might have driven you there, wished you a good morning and you would have slowly walked into the classroom, greeted by your classmates and your eyes sleepy from the early start.
You probably don’t even remember what you were doing, because an ordinary school morning is to be forgotten; but not for Malala Yousafzai.
In 2012, Malala, a Taliban 12-year-old girl living in occupied Pakistan boarded on school bus on her way back from an exam, when a Talibani gunman shot her in the face after identifying her from a small group of girls.
But Malala lived. She lived after the denial of education and freedom of living an ordinary 12-year-old life before getting shot; she lived after the shot that got her a bullet passing through her skull and living on an operation table for 5 hours; and she continues to live and inspire people, especially young girls all over the world and accomplishing a World Peace Nobel Prize at the age of 1y years old (and also delivering a kickass speech that called out the U.S on attacking civilians with drones).
It’s Malala’s birthday today and she turns 18, an age that is so important for us, but that almost seems small compared to the level of maturity and empowerment that Malala has been able to hold from a very young age.
So in honour of her birthday, here are three lessons we can all take home.
1. EDUCATION IS THE START OF THE REVOLUTION.
Malala’s message is focused on education. She has started the Malala Fund and highlighted the importance of education for young girls living in countries under conflict for them to rise to better living conditions.
Her whole story and persona started with education.
Her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, is a poet, school owner and an educational activist, who has installed his value for knowledge her whole life, encouraging her curiosity and engaging her in political conversations, where she could learn and share the opinion that was so closeted in the country’s educational system under the Talibani occupation.
Thanks to her father’s passion and encouragement in her education, Malala has used her strength and intelligence to pursue her studies and encourage other young girls to continue to study and learn, as an attack against the oppressors that have so threatened her freedom.
During the violent occupation, Malala was actively blogging about her life as a young girl, documenting how much the violence and the denial of education was affecting young girls all over the country.
When her blog posts got picked up by a newspaper, Malala’s name was quickly found out from the Talibans, who decided to act and stop her.
But Malala can’t be stopped, because her message is unstoppable.
“Books not bullets is not an empty slogan, it is a strategy to build lasting peace and tackle the huge challenges facing our world. I want world leaders to choose books over bullets. It may look as if I am naive. I’m still a teenager. But I measure the world in hope, not doubt. We can afford to give every girl 12 years of free education. It is absolutely in our power, and when we do, we will realise a whole new world of possibility.”
Books are the quickest and safest way to learn and expand your knowledge. Teaching young girls how to read and encouraging pursuing their interests is the quickest way to build up their confidence and helping them finding their own voice to tell their stories.
“There is no greater weapon than knowledge and no greater source of knowledge than the written word.”
2. THE POWER OF YOUR VOICE
You would think that after being denied the right to share your opinion, the right to get better education AND the right to live; you would be feeling hopeless and scared of going back to your ordinary life.
But Malala is not an ordinary girl, in fact her reaction to what happened to her is extraordinary.
“I had two options — one was to remain silent and wait to be killed,” Malala said of that moment with the assassins. “And the second was to speak up and then be killed. I chose the second one. I decided to speak up.”
Malala has talked about her accident in her book and in the numerous speeches that she has hold. Thanks to her father encouraging her voice to be heard, she never hesitated to use her power to share her ideas and message.
She has spoken to young girls, given speeches, written blog posts anonymously; but above all, she continued her education.
Even though what she has been going through, Malala has not wished the worst for her attackers and for those who have occupied her country and denied education to young girls like her.
“I don’t want revenge on the Taliban, I want education for sons and daughters of the Taliban.”
Malala knows that people who deny rights to young girls and women all over the world, they do it in an attempt to cut their voices and keep them as silent as possible.
It teaches us how powerful and important our voices can be for younger generations, and how we should encourage people to voice these opinions and not discourage them by making them feel uncomfortable or making schools as a discouraging environment.
3. THE POWER OF BELIEVING IN YOURSELF
The last, but not least important lesson by this amazing girl is the power of believing in yourself and in who you are. Without the power of knowledge and education, Malala says that she would have not been able to find her own identity and consequently the powerful voice that she needed to carry her massage, even in the face of death.
Malala was not discouraged by her young age, or the horrible attack to her life; she had a voice and she used it.
“Sometimes we wait for others and think that Martin Luther should raise among us, Nelson Mandela should raise up among us and speak up for us, but we never realize they are normal humans like us – and if we step forward we can also bring change just like them.”
Each and every one of us has the power to bring something to the table, whether we are believed to be stupid, or irrelevant by other people; we do have a voice and we need to use it if we want to change how things are in the world.
Malala is the true example how education and empowerment can truly make a life-changing difference in the face of obstacles.
“Once I had asked God for one or two extra inches in height, but instead he made me as tall as the sky, so high that I could not measure myself.”
Happy birthday, Malala and we wish for more years filled with your wisdom and empowering messages for young girls and adults.
If you want to support Malala on her birthday, she has invited everyone to share their selfies with their favorite books and tell everyone why they love them so much, in an attempt to encourage people to read more and raise awareness on the importance of books.