Bravery, thy name is Malala

December 21, 2011

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Malala Yousafzai receiving the 'National Youth Peace Prize' by Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani at the PM House in Islamabad.—APP Photo

ISLAMABAD: Instead of being 'sad' as her name means, Malala was the happiest girl in Islamabad on Tuesday for being awarded the National Peace Prize by the prime minister.

She was honoured for being an inspiration to her friends by standing up against repression as her namesake did in Afghanistan in the 19th century.

“I named her after Malalai of Maiwand, who inspired the retreating Pakhtun to die as martyrs in the battlefield of Maiwand rather than live a life of shame,” said Malala's father Ziauddin Yousafzai, who accompanied the 14-year-old to Islamabad to receive the award.

While most of the Swat valley prepared to implement the Taliban's decree that stopped girls from attending schools in January 2009, Malala would wear ordinary clothes and hide books under her shawl before stepping out to attend her classes in Khushal School and College, Swat.

Malala became the voice of all the girls in Swat when she began maintaining a diary on BBC website.

“I started asking why girls were denied their basic right to education. Why were (the) Taliban hurting innocent people and how my friends and I wished to attend school to grow in life?” said the 8th grader.

Malala heard bombs explode, saw bodies in the streets and was also threatened by one of the Taliban commanders and spokesperson Shah Duan Maulana, who warned over FM radio to silence her.

“I had all the support from my family to pursue a cause against subjugation,” Malala said.

Her story was picked up by the New York Times that made two documentaries “Class dismissed in Swat Valley” and “A school girl's odyssey” that captured sights and sounds of the days that schools were closed and the times when Malala returned to her hometown with her family after some peace in Swat.

She became the first Pakistani girl to be nominated for the International Children Peace Award when she spoke about the people of Swat and voiced their suffering during the dark times of the Taliban in a diary for BBC.

The International Organisation for Kids' Rights had announced the names of five children nominated for the International Children Peace Award, including the 14-year-old from the Swat.

The nominations, it said, were announced by the South African Nobel laureate, Desmund Tutu a few weeks ago, during a ceremony in Amsterdam, Holland.

Malala is also the elected speaker in the district child assembly comprising 60 to 70 boys and girls.

“I want to use the award for the benefit of all the children, who work in homes and for the children in the streets, who are denied their right to education,” she said, explaining how the award had encouraged her to make a difference.