Her words echo in our ears: “Dear sisters and brothers, we realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced.”
These are the words of a young woman — no, of a child — who was shot at by the very men whose children she still longs to educate.
On Oct. 9, 2012, two members of the Taliban stopped Malala Yousafzai’s Pakistani school bus. One member made his way to the back of the bus, where female students sit. Searching for Yousafzai by name, he came face to face with the 15-year-old who had been speaking openly as a proponent for educating women in defiance of Taliban law. She had been establishing herself as a proponent of global feminism and peaceful protest in the face of overwhelming carnage and violence.
Yousafzai was then shot three times, execution style, in the head and the neck.
It’s now 2013, almost one year to the day since the Taliban left Yousafzai for dead. A year has passed since Yousafzai’s shot heard ‘round the world gave her the international platform she needed to further her global mission.
In more ways than one, it was the worst way the Taliban could have handled the situation.
At 15, Yousafzai had a massive bounty on her head, and according to CNN, the Taliban again vowed to kill her if she survived their initial shooting — in other words, that bounty’s only gotten bigger.
The planet’s most savage radical group launched an assassination attempt on her which failed, and now has more of an investment in her death than before.
Despite this, and despite suffering partial facial paralysis as a result of the shooting, Yousafzai has chosen to embark on an international crusade for improving education.
This girl was shot in the head by men twice her size, and her convictions for the importance of education weren’t shaken in the slightest. At 16, Yousafzai is willing to die for something many of us regard as an inconvenience.
Yousafzai is, first and foremost, a proponent for an educated world.
“In my opinion, the solution that would work to fight all these wars and all these problems that people are facing is only education,” the Nobel Peace Prize nominee said in her appearance on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”
In Yousafzai’s appearance on his show, Stewart began one of his questions by saying, “Your love of school … reminds me so much of my children.”
The audience, including Yousafzai, laughed — it was obvious that Stewart was making a joke in saying that his children valued their education. His children, despite growing up in one of the world’s most prosperous and accommodating nations, hate school.
Across from Stewart sat Yousafzai, a child who grew up in one of the globe’s most war-torn and decrepit countries. Her human rights had been neglected for much of her childhood. There’s a death warrant out there with her name on it — and yet, even she was able to grasp the unending value of obtaining an education.
Stewart’s interview with Yousafzai was fantastic and humbling, and he served as an incredibly gracious host. That little quip, though, that insignificant segue, left a familiar sense of nausea in my gut — that same kind of nausea that hits when students are overheard complaining about the bothersome nature of Houston’s homeless, or how unrelentingly bad they have it because their professor neglected to upload a more comprehensive exam review to Blackboard.
I guess the point I’m trying to get at is that as Americans, there is something inherently wrong with us.
It’s not uncommon to skip Spanish class because we had one too many Keystones the night before. Traffic avoidance and mornings spent exploring the intricacies of our Netflix queues are some embarrassingly common reasons we use to excuse excessive absences. Our lives couldn’t be any more dreadful than the nights we spend preparing for the exams that, ultimately, we’re incredibly blessed to be taking.
We have it so good. So incredibly good, in fact, that we should be the ones most actively taking her words to heart. Having been raised in a world where education is common enough to be complained about, that face in the mirror is the furthest thing from being immune to the words of Yousafzai.
Biology senior Gabriela Olson, however, serves as an example of somebody who grasps the intrinsic value of education.
“My mom’s from Peru, and their education system is so much different from ours,” Olson said. “She snuck out of the country, learned English, and she learned how she could get a job with an education.
“She went to UH and told me how she would hear students complaining about their parents not letting them go party … Meanwhile, she was learning English so she could get her degree.”
According to Worldbank, our literacy rates top the world’s charts at 98 percent. Pakistan’s, on the other hand, stand at 55 percent.
Many of us have trouble relating to Yousafzai’s plight — we can sympathize, sure, but it’s tough for us to empathize with a situation we can’t fully comprehend in the first place.
We may not ever have suffered the trials that Yousafzai has faced in her short life, and God willing, none of us ever will.
Malala’s words aren’t restricted to those with limited options, though. Truthfully, we’re the ones who should be the most humbled by them.
“My mom learned English, had kids, got married and was still able to get herself an education,” Olson said. “She’s a teacher, and that’s what I’m going to become, too.”
Senior staff columnist Cara Smith is a communications junior and may be reached at [email protected]