Malala Yousafzai has packed more dramas and accolades into her eighteen years than most public figures manage in a lifetime.
In 2008, she made her first public speech – ‘How Dare the Taliban Take Away my Basic Right to Education?’ She was eleven years old.
In 2011, she received Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize, and was nominated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the International Children’s Peace Prize. In response to her activism, rising popularity and national recognition, Taliban leaders issued a death threat, and in 2012, when she was fifteen and on her way home from school, she was shot in the head and seriously injured.
In 2013, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and won the European Union’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The following year, she received another Nobel nomination and won it. Since then, she has set up a charity, the Malala Fund, and is now working to raise $1.4bn (about £1billion) to educate Syrian refugee children.
Clearly, a determined and highly intelligent young woman, she is above all driven by what she and many others view as injustice – there are sixty million girls around the world who do not go to school, and nearly half of displaced Syrian children are not in school. Malala says she will not rest until she sees the education of every child.
Growing up in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, she began her education at the school her father founded, but when the Taliban tried to stop girls from being educated by attacking their schools, she spoke out.
Now living in the UK, she has established the Malala Fund which works with local education organisations to expand schools’ capacity to enrol more girls in secondary school.
In Kenya, the fund has paid for IT training and life skills in the slums of Nairobi. It has also helped to set up Nigerian community-supported safe spaces clubs to strengthen adolescent girls academic and life skills, help with mentoring and offer support to girls when they decide to delay marriage.
Meanwhile, in Jordan, the fund invests in schools for Syrian refugee girls who are at risk of early marriage and in Sierra Leone, it has supported radio-based learning when schools closed during the ebola outbreak.
On the fund’s website, Malala said:
“Post a photo of yourself holding up your favorite book and share why YOU choose #BooksNotBullets – and tell world leaders to fund the real weapon for change, education!” The teenage activist went on:
“The shocking truth is that world leaders have the money to fully fund primary AND secondary education around the world – but they are choosing to spend it on other things, like their military budgets. In fact, if the whole world stopped spending money on the military for just 8 days, we could have the $39 billion still needed to provide 12 years of free, quality education to every child on the planet.”
Last year, she and 17-year-old schoolgirl, Muzoon Almellehan, a Syrian refugee, addressed world leaders at the Supporting Syria and the region conference in London.
Before the conference, they told The Guardian:
“We first met in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp, where Syrian girls as young as 12 and 13 are being married off to older men. For these girls’ families, marriage is seen as a way to protect their daughters from poverty and violence.
“Among refugee families living in Jordan, rates of child marriage have doubled in the past three years, and most of those girls will never go into a classroom again.
“Five years ago, things were very different for our sisters. Before the war in Syria, all children could attend 12 years of school for free, and the country had a 90% literacy rate.
“Without significant increases in funding, thousands of Syrian young people will remain out of school again this year.
“We cannot afford to lose a whole generation of Syrian children. And they refuse to be a generation lost.
“To help every child affected by the Syria crisis to get into school this year, rich countries must give $1.4bn. This sounds like a lot, but the cost of inaction is far higher. Experts say we risk having an entire “lost generation” of Syrian children.”
To find out more about Malala and her amazing work, take a look at her website.