At a mere 16 years of age, Malala Yousafzai has lived a remarkable life. After recovering spectacularly from being shot by the Taliban, the Pakistani crusader for girls’ education has addressed the UN, been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and launched a charity alongside Hollywood icon Angelina Jolie. It was recently reported that she is raising $500 million for Syrian refugees. All of it began with a diary she wrote for the BBC that explored the Taliban’s decision to close girls’ schools in Pakistan.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise then that she received the Ambassador of Conscience Award – alongside American singer, human rights and social justice activist Harry Belafonte – from Amnesty International in Dublin this week. Past winners of the honor include Peter Gabriel, Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel. Yesterday news also arrived that Malala has been honored as Harvard Humanitarian of the Year.
At the ceremony in Dublin, as U2’s Bono presented the award, Malala said, “I am truly honored to receive this award and would like to take the opportunity to remind everyone that there are many millions of children like me across the world who fight every single day for their right to go to school. I hope that by working together we will one day realize our dream of education for every child, in every corner of the world.”
As a testament to the reach of her impact, closer to Malala’s native home in the Swat valley of northern Pakistan, her former teacher Mariam Khalique has spoken up about her past pupil in an essay published by The Guardian and made the trip to New York to address Unesco yesterday on the importance of education for all children.
Khalique wrote: “Among the girls whom I have taught – girls including Malala Yousafzai, the young education activist whom the Taliban tried to assassinate – I see the dignity that education can offer. This is why I have dedicated my career to teaching, and why I am doing what I can to ensure all girls have the chance to go to school.”
She did not mince words, however, noting the significant challenges facing her own country and linking them to the state of education. She wrote: “A mixture of poverty and ignorant practices has led to Pakistan now being home to the second-largest number of children out of school. This is simply unacceptable.”
Khalique compared Pakistan to Vietnam, a country with which her own “used to be on an equal economic footing, but unequal education has meant that Vietnam’s wealth has fast overtaken our own. In Pakistan, around a fifth of the population lives below the poverty line.”
She added, “Just imagine how life could change for our country if all girls and women – one half of our population – were educated and financially empowered?”