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Malala Day Celebrates Children's Education

Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai

Today is Malala Day, a celebration of the birthday and life mission of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen who was shot for championing girls' education.

On the occasion, Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Malali Bashir spoke with the just-turned 17-year-old about her work with the UN Global Education First Initiative, and her role as a voice for the world's 58 million children who have no access to education.

RFE/RL: When you were shot it was a shocking moment for everyone around the world. Afterward, you travelled different parts of the world as part of your mission to help children get an education. Did you see any situations that shocked or surprised you?

Malala Yousafzai: I didn't face the incident or the attack alone. It's the kind of attack people endure on a daily basis in many countries around the world. It's going on in Syria, it's going on in Palestine, and it's going on in Iraq. People are getting killed for the missions they might have in their lives without knowing what they did wrong. When I went to the border area between Jordan and Syria, I saw almost 50 or 60 people walking from Syria toward Jordan. I saw mothers carrying heavy burdens with no hope of getting a place to even sleep, or shade to sit under.

But they still thought they [had a better chance to] live in peace there than back home. I saw children with no shoes and some of them didn't even have clothes to cover themselves with. They were in a very bad situation. Some of them were left without food for days. It was then that I felt shock and thought to myself, 'What is going on in this world? Why are these people being displaced? What is their fault?" I thought, "Why we don't raise our voices for these people?" It's very important to speak for them now.

We even use Twitter to raise awareness about their issues. But these issues are highlighted for two or three days and then fade away. We shouldn't stop raising our voices about such problems. We should again and again ask for peace for these people. These people don't want things like big cars and luxurious houses. They only want peace and want to go back to their own homes.

RFE/RL: How have you helped in furthering the mission of education around the world through the Malala Fund?

Malala: I am glad that the Malala Fund is doing a lot, even though it hasn't been a year since the fund was set up. We started a project in Swat for those kids that are involved in domestic child labor, especially those who work in people's houses as maids and servants. We provide scholarships to those kids so they can attend schools. We went to Jordan; we are helping the displaced people of Syria so their kids don't remain uneducated. We are also working in Kenya for those kids who don't have access to education due to poverty.

RFE/RL: You have mentioned in your book that you love Swat. Do you want to, or would you, go back to Swat any time soon?

Malala: I have been to so many places but I haven't seen the beauty of Swat anywhere in the world. I want to go to Swat and to my home again. I am proud that I am from Swat and that I am a Pashtun. I am hopeful that, God willing, I will go back to Swat someday.

RFE/RL: You travel to many different places pursuing your mission to support education for all. How do you manage everything?

Malala: I try to go to the office every day. I do my studies and homework on time, but in addition education for other kids is also very important to me. So sometimes, I sacrifice a day of my schooling for my mission. Because of a day off from my own education, a hundred children might go to school.

RFE/RL: You have talked a lot about your father. You mentioned about him in your book as well. Can you share with us your mother's contribution to your success?

Malala: My mother has contributed a lot to my and my father's life. It was she who encouraged my father and me and said that our campaign for education and peace is for truth. My mother is a brave woman. She loves education and still wants to get an education. So now she has enrolled at an education center to study further. She wishes she was educated earlier, but she thinks it's still not too late.

RFE/RL: Many people say that you are wise beyond your years. Despite the worldwide recognition you have received for your work, do you ever feel that your childhood was stolen from you?

Malala: The situation I saw in Swat changed my life totally. When I saw girls couldn’t attend schools, that there were blasts on a daily basis, and people’s lives were in danger -- these incidents changed my life totally and I decided that I would work for education and peace, and I will continue to do that. I really value the awards I receive. I am grateful to all the people who support me in my mission.

Now, the happiness of my childhood is not in toys, dolls, and buying beautiful clothes. My dream is like every other child's, but with a slight difference. The purpose of my life is to see every child go to school and get education. I also spend my personal life like every other kid -- I even fight with my brothers. But I try my best to fulfill the purpose of my life.