A Portrait Of Courage

Oct 11, 2012 By Deepa Gopal
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Can you imagine struggling for the very simple right to an education? A right that we take for granted in so many parts of the world.

And yet, that is exactly what Malala Yousafzai went through every day of her life in her hometown of Mingora in north-west Pakistan. The Taliban extremists who had taken over her hometown had issued a decree forbidding Muslim girls from going to school.

Would she be killed if she defied their orders? Would they hurt her for speaking up for girls rights? These thoughts must have been swirling in Malala's head, but she did not let them discourage her. She was eleven then and dreamed of becoming a doctor or a politician, and serving her community. 

Unfortunately, three years later, Malala's worst nightmare came true. The fourteen-year old was shot last week while returning home from school, when two Taliban terrorists boarded her school bus looking for her. As Malala clings to her life, her country is rising up in support of this teenage activist. Protests were held in many cities, schools closed, and a day of prayer held in Pakistan for her recovery. 

Swat Valley: Far From Peaceful

Malala is the eldest daughter of Yousafzai, who runs a girls school in Pakistan's Swat valley. The picturesque Swat region is often referred to as the Switzerland of Pakistan for its natural beauty. But the region is far from peaceful. It borders Afghanistan, the country where the U.S is engaged in a war with the Taliban terrorists. The Taliban are a ruthless terrorist group, who want to impose a strict form of Islam known as Sharia law in the regions they control. Ever since the Taliban were driven out of power in Afghanistan, they have been hiding in the mountains and terrorizing border towns.

Pakistan's 'Anne Frank'

When the Taliban ordered girls' schools be closed in 2009, Malala took to the power of the pen. Encouraged by her father, Malala started campaigning for a girl's right to education. In her daily diary, she wrote about life in Swat valley, her fears for what the Taliban might do to her and her family, and her determination to lead a normal life. These were later published by BBC Urdu, under the pen name Gul Makai to hide her identity.

"They cannot stop me," Malala said in an interview. "I will get my education, if it is in my home, school or any place. This is our request to the whole world that (they) save our schools, save our world, save our Pakistan." She has met with then US special envoy Richard Holbrooke, and other officials in Pakistan's government. Malala was nominated last year for International Children's Peace Prize. She later received the National Peace Award for Youth in her country -- an award given to children under 18 years of age.

October 11 is the International Day of the Girl Child. On this day, we remember the courage of Malala and countless girls like her who are fighting every day for their basic rights. It is also a time for us to be thankful for the opportunities we have and to make the most of them.