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Even a Bullet to the Head Couldn’t Stop this Young Female Leader

October 28, 2012

Updated July 12, 2013

Today is July 12, 2013, a very special day for Malala Yousafzai: it’s her 16th birthday, and for this occasion she spoke to the United Nations in New York City. It was her first public address since being shot in the head by the Taliban in October 2012. It was a riveting speech. Malala spoke of the right of all girls to get an education, and especially without fear from harm. As she so eloquently stated:

“The terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life, except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.”

The world is a better place because of Malala, who exemplifies courage, perseverance and hope.

~~ ~~ ~~

All she wanted to do was to be allowed to go to school. For that she almost paid for it with her life.

It was a horrendous scene. A “school bus” (in reality a beat-up, tarp-covered truck) was stopped by a band of thugs. Inside the bus were several young girls on their way to school in Pakistan’s beautiful Swat valley. One of the thugs walked around the back of the bus and demanded to know which one of the girls was Malala Yousafzai.

When she identified herself he pulled out a 9 millimetre pistol and shot her once in the forehead, just above her left eyebrow. The bullet tore through the back of her jaw in a downward trajectory, passing near her collarbone, lodging finally near her spine. Blood splattered on the truck’s canvas wall behind where she sat.

This is vengeance, Taliban style.

Why would any human being deliberately try to murder–assassinate–a 15 year-old girl?

Because this tiny, beautiful, articulate girl scared the Taliban. Malala Yousafzai believes that females in Pakistan have the right to go to school, to get an education and to contribute to society. At the age of 11 she began to express her views through a blog on the BBC (writing under a pseudonym) on why girls have the right to an education. She called the Pakistani Taliban “barbarians.” She was interviewed often by the media and later received a civilian award for her bravery.

The Taliban warned her to stop but Malala ignored them. The media and the public adored her. This made the Taliban that much more fearful and furious.

So their reaction was to take out a hit on a 15 year-old girl. But it backfired–bigtime. Her miraculous survival and steady recovery has placed Malala front and center in the international news.

It wasn’t long, however, after Malala was shot that a 17 year-old female teen was threatened by the Taliban. Why am I not surprised.

Take a moment to watch this nine minute New York Times documentary which provides a summary of Malala’s leadership journey.

Words escape those of us who are thoroughly repelled by this atrocity. Unfortunately, we have become numb to the daily onslaught of news in all forms–digital, print, television and radio–of civilians being killed. Syria is but one example. But don’t forget Rwanda, Serbia and Sudan. Children get murdered each and every day by thugs and cowards who sometimes hide behind the facades of crony governments.

In the case of Malala Yousafzai, I was particularly struck by the brutality of her attempted assassination. It was premeditated and focused by the Taliban, who operated in typical cowardly fashion. But Malala survived, and her slow recovery and, as I expect, her even more focused will and leadership, will further threaten the Taliban. She now has a bounty on her head.

We adults, who excel in dispensing advice and often whining about trivial things, can learn so much from a young leader such as Malala Yousafzai. And I’d argue that young people living in rich, industrialized countries could learn a huge amount.

My three daughters (between the ages of 23 and 33) have had it easy growing up in Canada, a safe country with a large social safety net. I would love for my daughters and my ten year-old granddaughter to meet Malala. I wonder what she would tell them. I bet, for one, that she’d tell them how lucky they are to live in one of the most wealthy and safe nations in the world, where girls can go to school every day without the fear of being murdered.

Our world is a mess. The only hope I see for positive change is through young people, like Malala Yousafzai, who for some unexplained reason at a young age have the burning desire to make the world a better place.

Malala, who was flown to Birmingham, England, on October 15 to be treated at a world-class trauma unit, is making a steady recovery. Her parents arrived on October 25 to visit her. Malala asked that they bring her school books so that she could study for exams. Imagine that.

Let’s all pray and hope for Malala’s full recovery. She has more work to do in her home country. Our planet needs more young people like her.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world
– Nelson Mandela

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. HELEN permalink
    January 12, 2013 4:03 pm


  2. October 28, 2012 4:17 pm

    The shooting of Malala was a horrifying act. While it shocked many of us around the world, it probably was not a surprise to the people of Afghanistan who have lived with this type of violence by the Taliban for many years.

    Thank you for so eloquently sharing her story, Jim. The more people who know, the more people who will support change in that part of the world.

    • October 28, 2012 5:04 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Susan, to read my post. I hope that young Western people learn about Malala’s story and incredible courage. We live in an increasingly self-absorbed, shallow, consumer-driven society, fretting about the most stupid things. We take our standard of living and freedom as entitlements. We can learn a lot from those in much poorer parts of the world who cherish what we’ve long ago taken for granted.

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