“Malala day is not my day, it is the day of every woman, every girl and every boy who have raised their voice for their rights.” ~Malala Yousafzai
On July 12, 2013, Malala Yousafzai addressed the United Nations, speaking out for education, peace, and equality. It was her sixteenth birthday. Since then, the U.N. has recognized July 12th as Malala Day and the passionate young activist has used her birthday to emphasize her life’s mission to provide every child in the world with access to education.
Less than a year before her inspiring speech, Malala had been shot by the Taliban while traveling home from school in the Swat Valley, Pakistan. For years leading up to this attack, the Taliban active in northern Pakistan had been blowing up schools, banning women from education, and perpetrating violence to remove those who stood in their way. Malala and her father were (and continue to be) brave voices speaking up for peace and women’s rights, therefore marking them as Taliban threats and targets.
Malala’s mission is near to her heart because she experienced having her rights taken away. She connects personally with the over 60 million girls in the world who are unable to go to school. She also fights for those boys who are kept out of school, though their numbers are not as daunting as the girls. Young women are held back by child marriages, early births, being barricaded in the home without mobility or opportunity to experience the outside world, terrorist threats and extremism.
When girls are given access to education, particularly when they are allowed to move beyond primary schooling and gain a secondary education as adolescents, the results are remarkable. Young women are empowered to understand and yield their basic human rights, child marriages and early births are reduced, smaller, healthier families are created, incidences of disease are lowered (because prevention and treatment are understood), economies grow due to a more educated work force, and preparation for natural disasters and other challenges is enhanced.
The work that Malala is doing is not only life-changing for those who have been marginalized, it is world-changing for all the beings who share this earth.
Here are some ideas of ways to celebrate on Malala Day:
Revel in learning.
Malala said, “I don’t want to be thought of as the ‘girl who was shot by the Taliban’ but the ‘girl who fought for education.’ This is the cause to which I want to devote my life.”
We can celebrate her birthday by immersing ourselves in the opportunities we have to read, write and speak. To explore our world and the experiences it has to offer, with attention and humility. With the realization that the more we learn, the more enabled we are to make choices that are wise and kind.
We have the opportunity to challenge our own assumptions, to ask questions and allow our ideas to evolve. To put ourselves in situations that unnerve us so that we can grow.
As Malala says, “Education is education. We should learn everything and then choose which path to follow. Education is neither Eastern nor Western, it is human.”
When Malala was shot, she had to leave Pakistan to receive the medical treatment that saved her life, and has not been able to return home since that time. She speaks often in interviews about how deeply she misses the many friendships and familiarities she had to leave behind. She has also suffered extensive medical complications from her injuries, some of which have permanently changed her body.
She shares that,
“We human beings don’t realize how great God is. He has given us an extraordinary brain and a sensitive loving heart. He has blessed us with two lips to talk and express our feelings, two eyes which see a world of colors and beauty, two feet which walk on the road of life, two hands to work for us, and two ears to hear the words of love. As I found with my ear, no one knows how much power they have in their each and every organ until they lose one.”
Today is a day to let the lesser worries of daily life fade away, and settle into gratitude. For home, and the people who make home such a valuable place. For our bodies and the extraordinary ways that they sustain our lives every day. For freedom and love, for the ability to walk out the door and follow our hearts each day. Pause and soak these things in.
Believe in purpose.
“They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.” ~ Mexican Proverb
There were many points in Malala’s ordeal at which her path could have branched off in different directions. She was shot in the head at point-blank range, a wound that should have been fatal. She received a series of risky surgeries in the aftermath of her attack, and pulled through all of them. She continued to meet doctors who were able to provide the specialized care she needed in the critical time frames that were required for her survival. She was not an international celebrity at that time, she was a schoolgirl from northern Pakistan. And yet somehow, the delicate threads that were necessary wove together into the pattern that saved her life.
We may not always be aware of it, but this happens for each of us every day.
In all the great power and chaos of the universe, we wake up each morning to breathe in and out through another day. It’s a miracle every time, and one with purpose. Our impossibly unique hearts and minds cultivate magic in the world that only we can give.
As Richard Bach said, “Here is a test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished: If you’re alive it isn’t.”
Believe that you, too, are a seed. That no matter how deeply buried in trials and challenges, you are built to grow through it all. By your very nature, made to burst from the earth and reach for the sun.
Whether we are doing the telling or the listening or a bit of both, sharing our stories with one another is a powerful act.
We can take today as an opportunity to be mindful of connecting with people who we normally might not. People older or younger than us, of different cultures or religions, unlike us in ways that take us out of our element. We can listen to people who think differently, and reach out to people who haven’t invited it. We can be willing to look foolish in the pursuit of becoming wiser.
Through writing a book and filming a documentary, Malala has shared her story with the world, making many of us privy to fresh insight, inspiration, and perspective. Not only do we all have stories to share, we are uniquely skilled at learning through story-telling. Connecting through our personal narratives lays the foundation for compassion and growth.
Below is the video of Malala’s speech at the United Nations on that first official Malala Day, several years ago. Whether hearing her speak for the first time or the fiftieth, it is well worth taking sixteen minutes today to hear this wise young girl transform the complexities of the world into simple truths.
Happy birthday, Malala!
Sources for more on Malala:
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb
What Works in Girls’ Education: Evidence for the World’s Best Investment by Gene Sperling and Rebecca Winthrop
Author: Chrissy Tustison
Editors: Caitlin Oriel; Travis May