At the age of 23, Malala Yousafzai graduated from Oxford University with a degree in philosophy, politics, and economics.
For many, this is usually the first major achievement in their lives and would go on to make an impact in society.
But not for Yousafzai, her contribution to her community started 11 years ago and many would argue that graduating from Oxford is the least of her achievements.
Here is her story…
Photo taken from wikimedia.org
Born in Mingora, Pakistan, in 1997. Yousafzai led a happy childhood like many children around the world. Her father is an educator and had founded the school in which Yousafzai had her early education.
Things started to take a turn for the worse when the Taliban tried to take control of the area where she lived. The Taliban started to attack institutions that they believed were against their faith, including girls’ school.
At only 11 years of age, Yousafzai became a major voice against the actions of the Taliban and what they were doing to her community. Using the pseudonym Gul Makai, she began blogging for the BBC about living under the threats of the Taliban. She spoke about her rights, and the rights of all women, to an education.
Two years on, in 2011, Yousafzai’s activism resulted in her nomination for the International Children’s Peace Prize and was also awarded the Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize.
Unfortunately, her prominence brought unwanted attention from the Taliban. Both she and her family received death threats for her activism but undaunted, she persevered.
Soon the unthinkable happened, while riding on a bus home from school. A gunman boarded the bus and shot Yousafzai in the head. Two other girls on the bus were also injured in the attack.
Through some miracle, she managed to survive but was in critical condition. Eventually, she had to be flown to the UK for major surgeries, including repair of her facial nerve to fix the paralyzed left side of her face. She was also extremely lucky not to suffer any brain injuries.
Just only 9 months after being shot in the head, Yousafzai was able to give a speech at the United Nations on her 16th birthday in 2013. She highlighted education and women’s rights, urging world leaders to relook at their unjust policies.
At the speech, the then Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon pronounced 12th of July, Malala Yousafzai’s birthday “Malala Day” in honor of the young leader’s activism to ensure education for all children.
In October that same year, the European Parliament awarded Yousafzai the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in acknowledgement of her work. One year later, she became the youngest person to receive the Noble Peace Prize. She was only 17 years old.
In 2017, Yousafzai was appointed as a U.N. Messenger of Peace to promote girls’ education. This appointment is the highest honor given by the UN for an initial period of 2 years.
Yousafzai returned to Pakistan in 2018 and it was her first time back since the terrible attack more than 6 years ago.
She had published several books within this period and there is even a documentary about her life - He Named Me Malala - directed by Davis Guggenheim.
Yousafzai’s story is one of Faith – her strong believe that every child must have access to education, of Courage – standing up to tyranny even in the face of death and of Perseverance – Never give up despite the seemingly impossible odds.
We all can draw inspirations from Malala’s life but more importantly, remember that education should not be taken for granted.