Malala Yousafzai: Finding Her Voice
By Ivy Kuo, Legends Report Contributor
What would you do if you spent your childhood speaking up for girl’s education in front of cameras—even before you graduated high school? How would you feel if at 15, you were shot in the head by the Taliban on your way home from school? How would you face a terrorist group intent on silencing your words of activism, strength, and encouragement to young girls around the world?
This is the unfortunate reality Malala Yousafzai grew up with; yet, she sees the fortunate aspects of her life. As a child, she graced headlines as a Pakistani activist for girls’ education, as well as now holding the title of the youngest laureate for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Finding Courage Amidst Danger...
After reading her novel, “I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Changed the World,” I discovered the full extent of Malala’s incredible courage and strong belief in doing the right thing, even when it’s the most difficult path to take. She often risked her own life to speak up for women’s rights around the globe, amidst daunting threats by the Taliban, led by Fazlullah.
“Even some of my friends asked why I let the world see my face. ‘Fazlullah’s men wear masks,’ I said, ‘because they are criminals. But I have nothing to hide and I have done nothing wrong. I’m proud to be a voice speaking out for girls’ education. And proud to show my identity.”
Many of us struggle to choose courage in stressful situations. How many times have you found it difficult to be assertive to someone whose authority you feared, or helped others when it came at a disadvantage to you? How many times have you wrestled with choosing selflessness over protecting your personal interests? Malala has also dealt with these internal conflicts, and with consistent practice, her conscience has prevailed in the end.
It’s astounding that in such a terrifying situation, Malala chose to follow her moral compass instead of fear. The courage she exuded in refusing anonymity in the media showed her genuine belief in her mission of bringing girls education everywhere. She knew that she would have a wider impact if she weren’t hidden behind a veil or using a fake pen-name; this was her and her family’s personal sacrifice to social justice.
While we may not face the Taliban's force when we wake up in the morning, we make decisions every day that require us to listen to our conscience. From giving up a seat on the train to asking for help, to giving it.
Learning From Legends In Our Lives
Malala was not born with a superhuman strength and courage; rather, she grew up in a nurturing environment amidst her loving parents. The lessons she learned from those two legends influenced her activism: she inherited her mother’s kindness and learned her father’s moral righteousness. In essence, she was mentored from an early age.
Malala’s fortitude and wisdom can undoubtedly be attributed to the influence of her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai. He was the founder of the girl’s school that Malala attended, and an unwavering protester against the Taliban. He encouraged her from a young age to speak up for herself and women’s rights everywhere.
“Malala used to be known as my daughter but now I am known as her father,”
- Ziauddin Yousafzai
Mr Yousafzai's influence on his daughter demonstrates that every legend’s journey is attributed to the positive forces they’re surrounded with. Legends act like sponges, absorbing in the wisdom and valuable lessons of whom they respect.
As Malala grew up, her father’s school was increasingly threatened by the Taliban. One by one, she watched her fellow classmates drop out of school, while Malala, guided by her father, found her courageous voice, a medium she used to fight for women’s education.
“The uniform I once loved now made me feel like a criminal. Suddenly everywhere I looked the Taliban seemed to sprout like weeds. Then I thought: What have I done wrong that I should be afraid? All I want is to go to school. And that is not a crime. That is my right. Besides, I was the daughter of Ziauddin Yousafzai, the man who had dared to talk back to the Taliban.”
We can see how Malala’s activism is largely derived from her ability to learn from the most influential legend in her life: her father. She grew up with his constant encouragement to remain strong amidst a terrible war and to keep speaking up for what she believed in. This shaped her adolescent and young adulthood, where she remained a fearless leader for women everywhere. Malala’s ability to absorb the qualities of those she admired, is what makes her the fearless leader she is today. Imagine what we could all do if we had someone in our corner constantly backing us? Constantly helping us go beyond our limits...
Finding Gratitude In Life
I was especially touched by Malala’s deep gratitude for life, especially after surviving the near-fatal attack by the Taliban. After waking up from a coma in a hospital in England, thousands of miles away from her entire family, she only felt thankful for being alive.
“I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t scared. I just thought: it doesn’t matter what I look like I am alive. I was thankful. Maybe the old Malala would have cried. But when you’ve nearly lost your life, a funny face in the mirror is simply proof that you are still here on this earth.”
How many times have you worried about the little things in life, only to realise it is insignificant in the wider perspective of things? We can get so caught up in society’s standards of beauty that we forget to focus on the one thing that matters: our health.
This anecdote reminded me that superficial qualities lose their significance once we focus on our health, our family, and our loved ones.
Malala’s ability to feel gratitude amidst this traumatic situation was truly touching, for she reminded me to stop focusing so much on what society deems important (external qualities) and focus on the richness of life, on the fact that I am here on this Earth, alive, and breathing.
I was truly moved by the personal journey Malala shared in her book, for it is rare to encounter such selflessness and willpower, especially at such a young age. She’s a true legend who can remind us to continue listening to our conscience even amidst trials of our character, to learn from legends surrounding us, and to feel grateful for everything life has given to us.
“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”
- Malala Yousafzai