An Inspiring Evening with Malala Yousafzai, Teen Superstar Girls’ Education Activist

By Shel Horowitz, Editor, Peace and Politics

Malala amidst members of Amandla Chorus, serenading her. Photo by Shel Horowitz

Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Laureate in history, likes to create surprises.

During a tribute from the Amandla Chorus, of Greenfield, Massachusetts, she stepped onto the stage and allowed herself to be surrounded by chorus members singing about her—and then greeted the chorus director and several singers as they left the stage. When she took the microphone at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island, July 28, 2016, she began by acknowledging the girls of Sophia Academy, where she’d shared pizza with the students during a surprise visit earlier in the day.

She’s very humble and even kind of shy. But also a bit of a tease, as you’ll see in the Q&A section.

Malala Yousafzai: "It’s harder to accept injustices than to speak out."

Malala In Her Own Words

[Portions in brackets are paraphrases or my clarifications. The rest is as close as I could come to verbatim transcription.]

In 2007, when I was only 10, the Taliban took control of Swat Valley. They bombed schools. This whole idea of women’s rights and women’s dignity was taken away. It felt like we were going back to the Stone Age.

What affected me most was when my school was banned. 15 January 2009 was the last day of my school. I decided to speak out and raise my voice, for myself and for girls in my community. [She was 11]

I knew that if I don’t speak out, the consequences are even worse. We would have to live in that situation for my whole life.

I volunteered for the BBC [to write an anonymous blog about the Taliban occupation, in Urdu—she is a native Pashto speaker], New York Times, I had interviews and articles. My weapon was my voice, book, and pen—and my story.

Then we were internally displaced for three months. But then terrorists left the area and peace was restored.

But it was not only terrorism that was stopping us from going to school. Child labor, child trafficking, traditional men not allowing women to go out of the house. So I decided to continue speaking out. Not speaking out because I was clever, but because I had a passion, and my father allowed me. Other girls could do more, but their fathers did not allow them.

You don’t have to be someone really special, don’t have to have gotten big degrees in universities. Believe in your work and start campaigning from right now, the change that you want to see. We need to start now.

I started speaking out when I was 11. I did not need any special kind of training. Hilde didn’t need a degree to become a journalist.

I am waiting for the happy ending of this Bollywood film, where every child gets an education.

[Following the Taliban assassination attempt], the whole world was praying for me, and I realized that God is supporting me, and even Death is supporting me. Death does not want me so early.  The terrorists made a big mistake, because now I don’t only speak out for girls in Swat but girls globally.

[The purpose of her foundation, the Malala Fund,, is to] advocate, amplify, invest. To spread the message of education to the world leaders.

Sometimes I talk to world leaders and people ask if I’m scared. They should be scared to talk to me [because she holds them accountable for girls’ education].

I advocated for 12 years for quality education, [in accordance with the] UN Development Goals. I want to assure these leaders before I met them that I have done something: building schools in Lebanon, Pakistan, Nigeria. And we amplify the voices of the young girls. So when these big meetings are held and the leaders come together, they need to realize they are making decisions for the younger generation—so they need to listen to them. I took a Syrian girl with me, she highlighted that all Syrian girls want is education [and peace]. So we amplify the voices of young girls on these issues.

July 12, my birthday, is UN’s Malala Day. I spoke at the UN on my 16tbirthday On my 18th, I went to Lebanon and Jordan. On my 19th, Kenya [and a second country I didn’t catch].

[The girls of those countries] don’t need me anymore; they have a voice themselves. All you need is people’s support and a voice, and that can bring change.

Q&A with MC Patrice Wood, NBC 10 News Anchor

[Wood asked her own questions as well as some that were submitted in advance by audience members]

What do you think of this audience of 6000 people who love you?

You know that you are not going to lose in this campaign. You will definitely succeed.

What do you think of Providence?

I went to this restaurant called India, and I ate too much and needed a proper walk. And everybody was looking for Pokemon. No one was even looking at me. I told someone, my father wants an explanation of this game. Even now he doesn’t get it.

People admire you as a world leader. But you’re 19, still a teenager. I noticed at Sophia Academy that you love being with the kids. Tell us about the playful side.

I like connecting to young girls. When I was in Minneapolis, I gave a surprise visit to these Somali girls, and last year I made a visit to this prison in Denver. They had a book club and were discussing my book. They just started crying.

The Sophia Academy girls have big dreams. They can change not only their lives, but the girls in their community. When you see through your own eyes, it’s completely different.

So many of us grew up in a safe and secure world. But our sense of security has been shattered. How have you remained so positive and fearless?

Life becomes hard if you’re negative all the time and you can’t really live your life. Getting rid of the negative thoughts and keeping your heart clean and happy is important. Heavy hatred is something we have to take away from our hearts. You can complain, be sad, but there’s no need to hate. This is the key—we should not have any hate in our hearts—but this does not apply to my brothers.

A university student at URI: Where are you in your education right now? Would you consider going to school in New England?

I will be doing my senior year [of high school]. I am doing history, economics, and maths [UK English makes this plural]. I want to study politics in Old England. Maybe for my Master’s, I’ll come to New England.

I’ve heard you say you might want to become PM some day, like Benazir Bhutto.

Before [the shooting], my dream was to become a doctor. It’s almost the only thing women can do in Pakistan. Later, I said I would become Prime Minister and change everything. But I’m stuck what to do. I don’t know what I’m going to be. But I will definitely continue the work I do through the Malala Fund.

Hillary Clinton would not have been where she is if she had not had an education, don’t you agree?

Girls don’t see enough women [role models]. We need to highlight women politicians, engineers, athletes—people who have done it before so they can do it as well.

Take us back to 2012, you were riding home on a bus and two boys stop the bus.

I don’t remember that incident, but my friends told me we were discussing our exams. I had Pakistani Studies exam that day and it had gone well. I haven’t seen my home since that day. One boy talked to the driver and the other came back and asked, “Who is Malala?” No one answered but some girls looked at me. One bullet hit me in the head and two others hit other girls. My systems were failing and they took me to Birmingham, UK. But now you see I’m feeling really well. I strongly believe that the prayers people have sent me, it has really helped me to recover, so thank you so much!

Eric McCullough, age 15: Who inspired you to stand up to the Taliban?

My father.  He said, “you ask me what I did, but you must ask me what I didn’t do. I did not clip the wings of my daughter.” He stood against the society that were neglecting him. People tell him, “it’s such a shame, she’s speaking out, it’s against our culture.” But he hopes future generations will appreciate it. He was doing this all from the beginning. He named me after a Malala who was challenging the disorders of her time. Her voice led to victory. He strongly believed in women’s leadership, women’s empowerment. A relative brought a family tree, and it had only the male names. My father wrote my name on it. But now [this relative] celebrates what a girl has achieved. My mother encouraged both of us. And she believes in truth, in having faith, she believes this is what Koran has told us.

Angela on Facebook: What does freedom mean to you? How do you balance your culture, your strong family values, and living in a culture where everything goes?

It’s the right to decide, no one is forcing you to do something. I am not forced to wear a headscarf. It’s my own choice. When relatives told me to cover my whole face, I refused. And being recognized as having a value in society, which women have been struggling for for many years. I know so many women in my villages who have always been a mother, daughter, sister, housewife. And they never get a chance to say what they believe, to have a say in making decisions This is something that needs to change. Women need to be respected as human beings.

What would you tell all the radical hate organizations that their actions are not the way to solve these issues?

The best way is to spread education. Giving them the right to question. Questioning, critical thinking is so important. You can teach children anything, but if you don’t encourage them to ask questions, they go blindly. We ignore them because they’re children—and this has to change. This is what my father did and I’ll always be grateful to him. He never told me, you’re too young to be part of this discussion. Listen to children carefully, answer their questions. Just because you’re a bit young doesn't mean you can’t have an opinion! Elders need to contribute to that.

[Wood then introduced a 9-year-old guest interviewer] “Hilde Kate Lysiak has her own newspaper, started at age 7. She’s now 9. She was reporting on tornados, vanadalism. Then she reported on a murder in her town. And people lashed out at her. There was a huge national debate. She did not back down. She posted a video online, ‘if you don’t like me reporting the news, get off the computer.’”

Hilde: Were you born to stand up for your rights, or was it the way you were raised?

I was raised in an environment where my parents did not stop me from speaking out. All those things matter a lot.

Hilde: Why do you think so many people think girls can’t be educated.

Some people can’t get their mind around a woman being a president or prime minister or engineer, and that has to change. Education is important, but also how media and social media portray media. She can be accepted as a human being.

Hilde: Do you have a boyfriend?

Can you find me one? If I find one, I’ll tell you, and it will be our secret, just me and Hilde.

Malala: I have a question to ask you, now. Why did you start this newspaper?

Hilde: I went with my dad a lot when he reported news, and I realized I love giving people the truth.[End of Hilde's interview]

Patrice: Do you listen to music?

I listen to all the latest songs on the radio, and to Pashto music, Hindi music. And I go out with my friends and with my brothers. And Pokemon Go—they used to be always in their rooms playing video games, and now they’re going out. I’m grateful.

How have you changed?

I think I’m always being nicer, but my brothers don’t agree. I have experienced a lot. At 10, 11, you see the world from a different position. I had these dreams, every child could go to school. But then I was receiving the response that this was such a big dream [and too hard]. It looks like a big mission but it hasn’t changed in my life, even though I see the big issues and know how complicated they are. But it has not made me stop the campaign.

Let’s talk about getting young people involved in peace building. What inspires you here young people are getting involved?

I have met refugee girls who have inspired me. In Kenya, most of the refugees are from Somalia. This girl Rahma was guiding me around, it was my 19th birthday. Her family had returned to Somalia. There was no school in her village, but she found a sponsor on social media and traveled 8 days back to the refugee camp in Kenya to attend school. It encourages me all the time that we should not lose hope. I met amazing girls in Rwanda. One shared how a close friend became a victim of sexual violence. She gave birth to a child when she was still in school. Now she was 20, and she told me school has given her hope. The generation that has suffered due to wars, conflicts, poverty, social norms—they still have strong faith and they are trying to get education, and they know its importance.

Have things gotten better for your friends in Pakistan?

I talk to my best friend. She will be going to university. Others are getting married [etc.]. Many people named their daughters after me to realize they need to get their daughters to school. But still it’s a long struggle. We need to advocate and to bring awareness that they need to respect the daughters equally—that you help the whole community, just as you expect from a son who gets education. The ideology needs to change.

Let’s talk about forgiveness. I was talking to a child who said he doesn’t know how you were able to forgive. He said he would still despise his attackers.

The two boys were brainwashed that they were doing something great for Islam. I can’t blame those who targeted me, but I blame that whole ideology of spreading this really bad image of Islam, that you can kill anyone else in the name of religion. Islam doesn’t allow anyone to kill another person. Forgiveness is the best revenge for me.

How do you change that ideology?

The Mujahadeen were created in different wars. Even the textbooks were changed. You’re only allowed to learn about Islam. Do Christians and Jews walk differently, talk differently [from Muslims]? If you don’t allow the questions, you’re not allowing the quality education. It really disappoints me that the world leaders don’t understand the importance of education. The terrorists understand it; that’s why the Taliban and IS are bombing schools.

I’m a student starting a women’s empowerment group in school—any tips?

Sharing stories is so important: from the US, the developing world. Just because I wear a headscarf and shalwar kameez [traditional Pakistani and Afghani clothing] doesn’t mean I think differently. we need to celebrate different cultures. they can come together and learn from each other, and to me this is beauty. Giving examples of women role models.

If you choose to raise children, what’s the most important lesson you’d want your sons to learn?

No Xbox or Playstation. Second, no girlfriends too early. Third, be very nice to your mom. Men have learned from society not to respect women. I would put a message of quality, diversity, peace, and friendship toward other cultures—we can teach these lessons now—but I am not sure when these children are going to come.

Will the Malala Foundation eventually fund university education for women?

In Nigeria, we gave scholarships to girls who escaped from Boku Haram. They’d been completely ignored. My ambition is that these girls can go beyond 12 years of education and can go to universities. It’s important to encourage universities to offer scholarships.

Did your mother continue her education? How does she feel about you traveling around the world?

She misses me. But she’s a living example who I can see every day. She started her education again. She’s more than 40 and goes to an English language center. This has helped her a lot in making sure that she is becoming more independent. My mom gets angry quickly and tells us off.

Your dad said, oh, let’s go out and sing the Malala song [with Amandla—to a roar of approval from the audience].

I didn’t want to, but then he said, “you can just stand with them,” and I did.

Can the West coexist with Islam?

There are 1.6 billion Muslims. [Not all are hostile and the West has to learn to live with them.]

Has fame changed your relationship with your family?

No. After I won the Nobel Peace Prize, my brothers told me, “you won that big prize but it doesn’t mean you can be a bossy sister!”

I feel that my Nobel was given to all the children of the world.

Were you worried about your safety [before the shooting]?

I worried more about my father. We didn’t think the Taliban would come after a child. I am thankful to God that he is safe.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

I love Pakistan, it’s my country. I never thought there could be a country as cold and cloudy as England. The people are wonderful, but I would live somewhere hot and sunny.

Do you ever want to be average and live an ordinary life?

It’s not easy to live an average life. It’s harder to accept injustices than to speak out.

My students don’t have ambition about changing the world. They just want to work in factories. How can I motivate them?

Working in a factory should not be considered a failure. You are all contributing to society. What's really important is to believe you can do anything. Don’t put limits on yourself! Every job has equal value. If they can complete their education, they can help their families. But it is the government’s responsibility to ensure a full quality education.

I’m a toy designer at Hasbro. I spend every day trying to create surprise and pleasure. What do you feel about play? Imagination? Discovery?

It’s important to have time to play, time with friends. Thank you for the great work you do making children happy.

What should people take home tonight?

When I was in Kenya, I saw these young girls who were the only ones getting education. They saw the film [about Malala] and said they would continue the work. Girls in the slums near Nairobi who had never used a computer had written their own biographies, visiting cards, and web pages. Education has transformed them! Now they’re able to talk in front of [groups of] people.

You can contribute so we can screen the film, you can host a film screening, donate money, follow hashtag #YesAllGirls

The good people are big in number. There are only a few bad people. We can defeat the bad people through our good work. You can have your own TV, your own newspaper, even if you’re nine years old.

Shel Horowitz,, is on a mission to show businesses how to thrive while turning hunger and poverty into sufficiency, war into peace, and catastrophic climate change into planetary balance. His 10th book is Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World.

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