Meeting Malala: The shy girl with an infectious thirst for education

TES Professional

Last year, Louise Wylie was a finalist for the Amnesty Youth Awards Young Human Rights Reporter (further education age group) award. Her excellent submission resulted in her being invited to an event to meet Malala Yousafzai. Here, she recalls her meeting with one of the world’s most well-known education activists and explains how Malala can inspire the current school-age generation.

Malala Yousafzai is, on first appearance, a somewhat average, perhaps uncommonly shy, teenage girl. But first impressions can be deceiving: in that small frame hides a resoluteness that rivals the bravest on the planet.

On the last day of the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August, she held a talk based on her book, Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Changed the World, and her campaign for girls’ education. I was offered the chance to attend the event as a former finalist in the Amnesty International Youth Awards.

This was my chance to see the girl who defied terrorists and ignored death threats, who seized the attention of the world when the Taliban shot her at point-blank range and who somehow continued with her battle for knowledge. It was too good to pass up.

Despite the early hour, there was a collective buzz under the mammoth marquee. There were 600 or so schoolchildren in attendance, ranging from 12- to 17-years-old. It’s hard to believe that Malala, with all her accolades and remarkable achievements, is the same age as many of the teenagers in the audience. “I’m seventeen now,” she said. “I feel old. I AM old.”

Malala entered with her father, pride shining in his smile, and JK Rowling, who would introduce her. For once Rowling found herself overlooked, while the crowd strained to see Malala, who, with her shy smile and small stature, could almost pass for a latecomer, embarrassed to be caught sneaking in.

Malala was described by Rowling as a “mouthpiece for girls wanting education”. It was clear that the author was a little emotional when describing Malala’s first stand as an 11-year-old. Later, Malala explained what she saw as the choices available to her when the Taliban first came to her valley. She thought she could “either stay silent and wait to be killed, or speak up and then be killed”.

It’s not for nothing that she has become known worldwide. The eloquence and power in her words belies her age – a true politician in the making. Ambitious and unyielding, Malala is a formidable force for good.

“I want to become a politician. No, in fact, I want to become Prime Minister of my country,” she said.

It’s hardly surprising that she has set her goals so high. Malala spoke of the children she has met around the world who yearn to receive a quality education. When asked what her own dream was, she replied, “to see all my brothers and sisters going to school”.

Malala appealed to her peers to stand up, and change their thinking. She encouraged those in the audience to spread the fight for universal education with their friends, through social media and by contacting their political representatives.

It’s easy to forget how young Malala still is, though she has been forced to grow up so soon. In the middle of an impassioned critique of the Taliban she paused and said wistfully: “I love school. I don’t understand why they don’t.”

Malala’s thirst for knowledge is insatiable, and infectious too. She enthused the audience with her passion and spurred us on to further the cause of education. In her closing sentence, she asked us all to “Become the change and bring the change.”

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