Malala in Trinidad. Photos by Marcia Braveboy
By Marcia Braveboy
Caribbean News Now Senior Correspondent
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad -- Seventeen-year-old Pakistani student, Malala Yousafzai, who has been an internationally known activist for rights to education and for women since she was 12, was in Trinidad and Tobago this week talking to young people about the importance of education.
In early 2009, Malala wrote a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC detailing her life under Taliban rule and her views on promoting education for girls. The following summer, a New York Times documentary was filmed about her life. Malala rose in prominence, giving interviews in print and on television, and she was nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize by South African activist Desmond Tutu.
Malala and her father Ziauddin Yousafzai started their worldwide campaign for children, girls and women in particular to be formally educated after Taliban militants tried to kill the courageous teen for speaking up for girls education in Pakistan.
In the afternoon of October 9, 2012, two young boys boarded the school bus Malala Mala was travelling in. One of them asked for Malala by name, then pulled out a Colt 45 and fired three shots at her. One bullet hit the left side of Malala's forehead, travelled under her skin the length of her face and then into her shoulder.
In the days immediately following the attack, she remained unconscious and in critical condition, but later her condition improved enough for her to be sent to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, for intensive rehabilitation. On 12 October, a group of 50 Islamic clerics in Pakistan issued a fatwā against those who tried to kill her, but the Taliban reiterated its intent to kill Malala and her father.
The assassination attempt sparked a national and international outpouring of support for Malala.
When Malala landed on the twin island republic last Sunday she was quick to note the privilege Trinidad and Tobago nationals have in access to free education from primary to tertiary level.
“In this country, you get quality education that is free from the primary level up to the tertiary level and even up to the post-graduate level they also help you. You are really lucky that you have free education and I tell you, this is a great opportunity for you to focus more on your education and to continue it,” she said.
Malala came to Trinidad and Tobago on the invitation of minister of tertiary education and skills training, Fazal Karim, who pursued this effort over a year ago to bring her to Trinidad for the education activist to speak to the nation’s students about the importance of education.
“On the day I was shot my weakness failed and hopelessness died, strength, power and courage was born,” Malala said to rapturous applause from secondary school students and younger children who filled the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) to listen to her message.
She told the NAPA audience of students that the Malala Fund was set up “for advocating and work on the ground.”
“We did projects in Jordan and Pakistan for children who are out of school,” she noted.
“I went to Nigeria on my 17th birthday, “I’m quite old now,” she joked to laughter from the audience.
The joke aside, however, she was concerned about her trip to Nigeria recently where over 200 girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram – that they did not believe girls should be formally educated.
“I went to Nigeria and I spoke up for girls, more than 200 girls abducted by Boko Haram, which is just like a militant group just like the Taliban and they do not believe in any rights for women and they do not believe in education for women and for equality… I made a wish there on my birthday, that my Nigerian sisters will return to their homes safely, and we have started projects there as well for those girls who escaped from their abduction,” she recounted.
Malala and her team led by her father are also helping girls in Nigeria who have security and other challenges, especially furnishing them with facilities to help them get an education.
She repeatedly encouraged Trinidad and Tobago nationals to not take for granted the free education available to them because of the unavailability of such for millions of children in various parts of the world.
Malal told the students the time to start building their communities is now. She stressed that she is pursuing a quality education because wants to go into politics and believes she will have more autonomy at that level to bring desired changes to people.
“I know it is considered a kind of a bad thing but politics is the way in which you can help your country, when you become the prime minister you can make great changes in your law in your constitution, you can start many good, good projects, you can help your people, um, so I’m hopeful that someone will vote for me, that someone will elect me,” she noted – drawing more laughter from the audience.
Malala shared her story with the students to show them that she is just like them, she too have her weaknesses and one of them she says is that she fights with her brothers; again, making the audience laugh.
“I want to share my story with you to say that I am not a special girl, I have some weaknesses and I have some good things as well. One of my weakness is that I fight with my brothers all the time, and I like cricket… well my brother thinks that I can’t play it well but I am good at it, I think so, and I can play badminton and yesterday, I met a person who I never think I could have met in my life… I met Brian Lara,” she said, as the audience screamed and applauded in response.
She spoke of Lara’s over 400-run record and described him as an amazing cricketer who she said she learnt some good things from when they met last Tuesday.
Lara said when you start learning, you learn it step by step, Malala recited the cricket great’s advice to her brother when they met.
“If I think that I want to change the world in two seconds, it can’t really be done if you look at the reality, so we have to do things step by step. If I want to be a good cricketer like Brian Lara, I can’t so it in this one second; I have to look at my age, how much I have done, practice and how much I am able to do, she said.
Malala was due to leave Trinidad and Tobago on Friday.
Read more about Malala's miraculous recovery and her extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she became a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize.
I AM MALALA is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls' education, of a father who, himself a school owner, championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons.
I AM MALALA will make you believe in the power of one person's voice to inspire change in the world.
Audio courtesy of Caribbean New Media Group (CNMG)