On 12 July, Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani teenager spoke to a room full of dignitaries from around the world at the United Nations headquarters in New York. One could see the admiration and pride on each face present in that room. The speech was thoughtful and thought provoking. During a dinner-table conversation, where I was present, the night after her speech Malala was discussed with fervor, and a question, pertinent in its own rights, was asked: what has Malala done? Apart from being shot in the head and almost dying, what has she done concretely to be spoken about so much?
Malala started writing a diary for the BBC’s Urdu service in late 2008. In her entries, she narrated her life as a school girl against the backdrop of the war ridden region of Pakistan’s Swat valley. Under the pen name Gul Makai, Malala wrote how she’s scared of going to school and sad that her school might not re-open after the winter holidays because the Taliban had announced a ban on girls’ education in the region. Once her identity was revealed she became a star in her country and worldwide. She was seen and heard by thousands, speaking of her passion for education and for human welfare. This is when she was pronounced to be in the Taliban hit list and then on 9 October 2012, while coming home from school, she was shot in the head.
While writing a diary in itself is not necessarily an “accomplishment” but sometimes, as the world has seen time and again, the pages of a journal can be more informative than any history book in the library, can inspire generations to act against atrocities and give hope to many living in despair.
When a certain Anne Frank related her life to her “Dear diary”, little did she know that her work would later be considered as one of the most important commentaries on the German occupation and how it affected human lives.
Malala’s, similarly, was a voice which remains often unheard. As BBC editor Jon Williams rightly says “Often in conflicts, news coverage focuses on bombing and killings. The stories of those caught up in violence are lost”. In her journal Malala voiced all those whose lives were disrupted due to the ongoing conflicts. The fact that education was taking a beating, that children in the Swat valley are exactly like those everywhere around the world, eager to learn and have a good time in school, came to life in her words. Her diary represented the anxiety of all those children who were barred from going to school against their wish but also the hope that one day things Will become normal!
These voices are needed to be heard and these lives lived, through the words of someone who has the courage to speak when no one would so that the world wakes up and takes note and act.
During her speech in the UN headquarters, Malala said:
“We realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced. In the same way, when we were in Swat, the north of Pakistan, we realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns. (…) Let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.”