I couldn’t let another day go by without saying how thrilled I was to hear that Malala Yousefzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Committee’s announcement on Friday was remarkable for many reasons, not the least of which was that 17-year-old Malala became its youngest recipient ever. Her co-laureate, 60-year-old Kailash Satyarthi, is an Indian activist who has spent a lifetime rescuing children from enforced labor. Together, they are a powerful force for education, equality and opportunity for children around the world.
As you know, Malala was an outspoken advocate for girls’ education in her native Pakistan when she was shot by the Taliban on her way home from school in 2012. After an arduous recovery, she continues to work on behalf of girls worldwide through The Malala Fund. For example, she met with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan earlier this year to personally appeal for the rescue of nearly 300 schoolgirls kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram. The Malala Fund has also made lasting commitments to worldwide education through its involvement with the Global Partnership for Education and the Clinton Global Initiative.
Malala’s advocacy would never have been possible without her father’s determination to provide her and other girls in their community a quality education. In her memoir, I Am Malala, co-authored with Christina Lamb, Malala explains her father’s conviction that lack of education was at the root of Pakistan’s many problems. It was this conviction that led him to establish schools for girls and, along with his daughter, become a proponent of education for all children, regardless of gender or economic status.
Likewise, Kailash Satyarthi realized at a very young age that the caste system in India offered education and opportunities to only certain members of society. Lower-class children were sent to work instead of school, with the understanding that child labor was the inevitable result of extreme poverty. Satyarthi challenged this view, believing that lack of education was to blame. In 1983, he founded Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Children) to get children out of the workplace and into school.
I read Malala’s incredibly moving memoir a few months ago and was both inspired and humbled by her story. (See my review at https://currentlyblog.net/2014/05/17/i-am-malala/) Her commitment to education was evident once again Friday morning, when she was pulled out of chemistry class and informed of her Nobel honor. How did she celebrate? She went right back to class, and waited until after school to address the media.
In her speech to the United Nations a year ago, Malala said, “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” I sincerely hope that the distinction of the Nobel Peace Prize will help her – and Kailash Satyarthi – continue to spread this important message.