There is no stopping Malala Yousafzai’s march to greatness.
At age 17, Malala, a Pakistani youth activist whose advocacy for girls’ education has made her an international symbol and a celebrity has just won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, an honor she shares with Kailash Satyarthi, whose campaign against child exploitation in neighboring India has also been highly acknowledged by the Nobel committee.
But it was not an easy and peaceful path Malala had to tread on her way to receiving the prestigious award.
Malala’s love for education started early when her father brought her to the school he founded for boys and girls and let her sit in with much older children. It was because of gender discrimination in Pakistan that the school existed and the encouragement Malala got from her father did not go in vain. She found it unfair that it was only her brother and herself that went to school and the rest of her sisters stayed home. It was her fate.
As Malala got older, one of her teachers had this to say: “She was an ordinary girl with extraordinary abilities, but she never had a feeling of being special.”
School was serendipity in motion for what was to come – starting from the snow capped mountains that surround the Swat Valley where she was born in 1997.
It was in 2008 that things started going bad when the notorious Taliban succeeded in controlling the Swat region and imposing their will, which among other things, was the closing of schools. By the end of the year about 400 schools was reportedly closed.
It was during this time that Malala’s father, Ziauddin, took her daughter to Peshawar, where she made a famous speech in front of national press titled “How Dare the Taliban Take Away My Basic Right to Education?” She was only 11.
Since then Malala was a marked girl by the Taliban.
In 2012, when Malala was only 15, armed men boarded the converted truck that she and her classmates used as a makeshift school bus. “Which one is Malala?” one of them asked. Stunned, her classmates must have looked at her and Malala took a bullet to the head.
The rest is history as her remarkable recovery and her unrelenting fight for girl’s education and equal rights continue to be her battle cry.
Nine months after she was shot, Malala gave a now-famous speech at the UN. “They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed,” she said. “And then, out of that silence came thousands of voices. … Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.”
Malala won Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize in 2011, before she was shot, but the prize been since renamed in her honor; it’s now the National Malala Peace Prize. She was shortlisted for TIME’s Person of the Year in 2012, and was one of the TIME 100 in 2013. She won a Mother Teresa Memorial Award for Social Justice in 2012 and the 2013 Simone de Beauvoir Prize for international human rights work on behalf of women’s equality.
Malala is simply a gift to the world.
What an admirable young woman she is!