"I am Malala"
The Swat Valley of Pakistan has been called "Paradise on Earth". Its azure lakes, crystal clear waterfalls, lush green fields and snow covered mountains attracted tourists from all of Pakistan and even once included a visit from Queen Elizabeth.
It was within this backdrop that 15 years ago Ziauddine Yousafzai started a private school for girls in this region providing a livelihood for his family and an education for a few of the 50,000 girls who wanted to go to school every day. Education flourished and girls came to see that they could become leaders in their communities. Unfortunately, all that changed on January 15, 2009, when Taliban insurgents, who constantly battled the Pakistan military for control of this region issued an order stating that girls could no longer get an education. For Ziauddine and his young daughter Malala, who were forced to be refugees for a time, that edict was just not acceptable.
Growing up in a home that was surrounded by education, young Malala, strove for educational excellence and saw it as a path to becoming a physician, a job she believed would help the people of Swat. But as she saw the battle for her homeland rage, she came to realize that she had a different calling.
Under a pseudonym she began blogging for the BBC. In her handwritten reports that were secreted out by a reporter, she detailed the troubled times at her school and the psychological pain she was experiencing.
"On my way from school to home, I heard a man saying, "I will kill you". I hastened my pace...to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone."
Following the military's partial success in clearing out the Taliban from Swat, Malala and her family returned to their home and she began to appear on television and radio as a spokesperson for girl's education. She took on positions as chair of the Swat Child Assembly, met with US envoy Richard Holbrook and was awarded Pakistan's first National Youth Peace Prize. The prize has been renamed the National Malala Peace Prize. She was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace prize, the youngest person ever to receive that honor. Her new goal is to form a new political party focused on promoting education throughout Pakistan.
On October 9, 2012 on her way home from school, Taliban terrorists stopped Malala's school bus and shot her in the face after threatening to kill all the children on the bus if Malala did not identify herself. She was airlifted to a military hospital to become medically stabilized. Offers for care came from around the world including from Representative Gabby Giffords who received treatment similar to what Malala would require. Her family chose for her to go to the United Kingdom where her care and subsequent rehabilitation is proving successful. She continues her online discussions that you can follow by "liking her" on Facebook. A recent post reminds us of her mission.
"I want to serve my people. I want to serve the humanity. I want that every male and female should be educated. Thanks to all those who prayed for me. Thank you very much everyone."
What are the lessons from a 15-year old who seems to have been placed in a leadership role by happenstance. The etymology of the word courage comes from the old French word "corage" meaning "heart, innermost feeling;". For most of us the embodiment of courage is in overcoming the fear and terror that usually accompanies bravery such as those seen on the battlefields of war. Malala shows us that courage is about acting from the innermost part of our lives, from our heart and from those things that resonate so deeply with us that we have no choice but to walk into the abyss.
Upon taking a trip to Pakistan on behalf of the United Nations, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown assumed the head of the "I am Malala" campaign that is directed towards improving global education for all. For me, Malala's message is to focus less on the fear, anxiety and stress in my life and focus more on what resonates deep in my heart.
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