‘I gave Malala the freedom – and it was her right’

2nd October 2015 at 01:00
Campaigning runs in our family, says Nobel laureate’s teacher father

Nobel Peace Prize-winning phenomenon Malala Yousafzai’s father insists that his daughter’s readiness to take a bullet for her beliefs is a sign of his success as a teacher.

Ziauddin Yousafzai – Malala’s father, a schoolteacher and an outspoken advocate of girls’ education in his own right – is a big believer in the role of the inspirational teacher.

Speaking ahead of the first anniversary next week of Malala being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, he tells TESS: “I always say that a great teacher inspires. Some teachers – the way they teach and the love which inspires their teaching, and the passion, the spirit with which they share their ideas – make a big difference. They’re inspirational. And it doesn’t end with inspirational speech. Teachers must be role models. Children learn from what we do, usually, not from what we teach.”

Before Malala became a Nobel laureate, her father was the family campaigner. The headteacher of a school in Pakistan, he would deliver assemblies on the importance of girls’ education. For his efforts, he was repeatedly threatened by the Taliban.

The family now lives in the UK, where He Named Me Malala, a new documentary film, is set to be released next month.

The Taliban shooting

One of the most striking moments in the film is when Mr Yousafzai describes the moment when Malala was rushed to hospital after being shot in the head by the Taliban. He says that he wondered in that moment whether he had essentially killed his daughter by encouraging her to speak out.

Does he still feel responsible for her shooting? He barely pauses to reflect. “I think it was more inspirational,” he says of his influence on his daughter. “That means that I never shared my ideals with her purposely – that I am putting these ideals in her head. What happened is that I was an educational advocate, a social and political activist of my community.

“People ask me, what did you do to make her so poised and so confident? And actually, rather, ask me what I did not do. I didn’t give her this [confidence], OK? I didn’t give her this. I gave her the freedom – and it was her right.

“Every father is supposed to do that.”

It is notable, however, that Malala did not use her freedom to stay out partying all night. Instead, she took up her father’s campaigning work.

When a BBC journalist began a search for a girl to write an anonymous diary of life under the Taliban, Malala volunteered. Later, she abandoned the anonymity and began speaking on the same platforms as her father. As a result, she was shot.

Famously, the family now lives in Birmingham, where Malala recently achieved a string of A* and A grades at GCSE.

“When I used to see children going to school here, I used to have tears in my eyes,” Mr Yousafzai says. “I wished that may God keep this country safe and may my country’s children have the same opportunity, the freedom to go to their schools.”

He has not, however, taught since moving to the UK; he points out that qualified teacher status is difficult for immigrant teachers to acquire. “The greatest happiness for me used to be in the classroom, when I used to see the little light – the children’s glittering faces – when they got something,” he says.

“So I miss all that. I would love to teach again, once I go to Pakistan. Here, if somebody gave me an opportunity, a teaching job here in this country…” He looks wistful for a moment.

“But, you know, I never applied.”

He Named Me Malala is released in cinemas on 6 November

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