You remember the story from two years ago, don’t you? At fifteen years old, Malala was on her way to school when gunmen from the Pakistani Taliban stopped the van, asked for her, and began firing on her. She was critically wounded, and many assumed she’d die from this assassination attempt. By some miracle, she survived… and it appears she’s stronger than ever.
In fact, Malala Yousafzai, the advocate for education and peace, won the Nobel Peace Prize last month, nearly two years after the shooting. Malala was jointly awarded the prize with Indian activist Kailash Satyarthi “for their struggle against suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”
At 17, Malala is the youngest Nobel Laureate in the prize’s history. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif congratulated her and called her the “pride of Pakistan.”
What Can Every Student Learn From Malala?
Observing her life and words, some specific lessons surface for all kids everywhere:
- She’s about principles, not popularity.
Despite the global attention, Malala is often ridiculed instead of praised in her home country. Over the past two years, right-wing activists and conspiracy theorists have flooded social media sites, accusing her of faking injuries or working with the CIA. Yet the young advocate continues to take a stand, holding fast to her cause.
- She’s focused on truth, rather than trends nor traditions.
While she adheres to a Muslim culture, she recognizes what’s unjust about their interpretation of those beliefs. One local said, “She’s ridiculed the way people used to live under Shariah law 800 years ago.” She agrees, but knows her mission is timeless. She focuses on the truth in her mission while scrapping outdated customs.
- She’s able to both give and receive criticism from her adversaries.
Malala came to prominence after writing an anonymous diary for the BBC on living in Swat and attending school as the Pakistani Taliban waged an insurgency in her area. She’s spoken out and taken hits for her videos and speeches. In a world that’s better at giving criticism than receiving it, she knows both are part of the territory.
- She’s not living for her own benefit, but for the benefit of others.
Malala has been attacked so often, it’s hard to imagine she continues in her cause. Now that she has a Nobel Prize, you’d think she’d lick her wounds and count her trophies, but she presses on because of the millions who need her to seize this moment.
- She’s a voice for those who have no voice.
Malala is an advocate for children—especially girls—who’ve been denied basic education and human rights. It would be easier for her to stay out of the limelight, but her conscience pushes her to speak for those who’ve been silenced.
- She’s not waiting until she’s an adult to make a difference.
Many in Pakistan do support the teenage activist. Karachi local Kulsoom Fazal says, “Malala has struggled at such a young age. This award should be a matter of pride for us in Pakistan. She is a positive influence on other children.”
In 2013, Malala told the U.N. that the militants who shot her and her friends “thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed.” She went on to say:
“And out of that silence came thousands of voices. 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.”
Malala’s words are powerful. I encourage you to share her story with your students.
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