"One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution." — Malala Yousafzai
The 2014 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded this month to Malala Yousafzai, a 17-year old Pakistani girl who has been fighting against suppression of children and for young people's rights, including the right to education. She is the youngest person to ever receive this award, and it's been around since 1901. Malala shares the award with Kailash Satyarthi, an East Indian children's rights activist.
Never heard of Malala Yousafzai? Well, let me tell you a little about what she's been through. Since the age of 11 or 12, she had been secretly beginning a human rights advocacy for education and for women in Pakistan's Swat Valley, where she lived with her family under the control of the local Taliban. The group had been banning girls from even attending school! Even at such a young age, Malala realized that something was definitely wrong with the world. She posted an anonymous blog post for BBC about what it was like living under Taliban occupation as well as her thoughts on women's education.
The next year, a New York Times journalist filmed a documentary about Malala's life and brought attention to the struggles of the region. Because of the documentary, Malala began to give TV and print interviews, and her name was getting out there. She was even nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize.
Fast forward a few years, and Malala is 15 years old, getting on the bus for school. A gunman climbs aboard, finds her, and fires three shots straight at her. An assassination attempt. They shot her friends too. Thankfully, only one bullet hit Malala, but it was enough to put her in critical condition for days, followed by a long, long recovery. Throughout all of this, her family lived under constant fear of another attack because the Taliban made it clear they intended to kill Malala and her father.
Malala's experiences hit the global news and sparked international attention. Soon it seemed like the whole world was watching—and learning more about child exploitation and the suppression of rights to education in Pakistan. In April 2013, Time magazine featured a picture of Malala on their cover as one of "The 100 Most Influential People in the World". She was only 15 years old and the winner of Pakistan's first National Youth Peace Prize.
In July 2013, on her 16th birthday, Malala stood in front of a huge group of respected and important diplomats and leaders at the United Nations headquarters and presented an inspirational call for worldwide access to education.
"We realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced. [...] We realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns. [...]
The extremists were and are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. [...] That is why they are blasting schools every day. Because they were and they are afraid of change, afraid of equality that we will bring into our society." — Malala Yousafzai
Winning the Nobel Peace Prize isn't the end of Malala's work as an advocate for girls' education though. If anything, it's only the beginning. As she said in her speech, "Peace is necessary for education." There's a lot of work to be done before we can really protect the rights of women and children. Malala's call to the World Leaders is a call to end terrorism, provide free education, promote unity and togetherness, and help one another globally.
First, it means you can stop doubting yourself. Don't think you can't do anything just because you are young. Just as 1 Timothy 4:12 says, "Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity." Your age has nothing to do with your impact on the people around you and even in the world.
You may be "just one young person", but you are also ONE YOUNG PERSON! God made you and gave you life so that you could spread His light across this shadowy land, and there's no age minimum or maximum for that. As long as you're breathing, you're game for this.
Second, it means that this world is hurting. Sometimes it's easy to get wrapped up in our little problems and worries, but there's a pain outside your door that YOU can touch. You may not be able to travel across the ocean (or maybe you can!) but if you look, you will find needs you can fulfill right where you live.
Hey, didn't Jesus say to love our neighbors as ourselves? (The answer is yes; it's in Mark 12:30-31.) There's probably no shortage of self-love going on in the average heart of every human being on the face of the planet. So let's share that love, guys! Google search your city and the word "volunteer opportunities" to see what you can find.
Let the passion of 17-year old Malala Yousafzai's life, words, and actions be an inspiration to you. With the strength of Christ, there is nothing you cannot do (Philippians 4:13).
Cat is the webmaster and editor of 412teens.org and writes novellas with local young writers at her workshops. She also contributes at GotQuestions.org, Blogos.org, and GQkidz.org. When Catiana is not writing or hanging out with teens, she loves spending time with her two kids, five socially awkward cats, and her amazing friend-amily that gets together every Saturday for various shenanigans.