Friday, October 23, 2015

A Powerful Witness to Power: Malala Yousafzai

Earlier this week, my wife and I attended a documentary featuring Malala Yousafzai, recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.  Malala was recognized for her contributions to education and educational access as a right for all children.  The Nobel Committee notes, "for [her] struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education".  

The documentary "He Named Me Malala" tells her story as a child growing up in Pakitstan's Swat Valley region.  The daughter of a father who valued education greatly and a loving and supportive mother, Malala flourished in her educational pursuits.  Yet, the bitter irony of her upbringing and developing passion for education coincided with the ascendance of the Taliban and its deepening influence around the region.  Soon, girls and young women were being discouraged to attend school and cease their studies. The Taliban's local leader preached an increasingly hostile message about women's education with schools being bombed with increasing frequency and any dissident voices being named in daily radio broadcasts and often hurt or killed on the street or attacked in their home.

Like many prophetic voices, Malala discovered her potential in the midst of such crisis.  She drew strength from her namesake, a late 19th century Afgani woman who rallied her people against the British colonial forces.  Malala's namesake demonstrated great bravery, even as it put her life in danger.  Malala became a frequent speaker and blogger about children's education and the right of all children--male and female alike--to receive access to education.

In October 2012, a Taliban assassin shot Malala while on a school bus along with two other young women.  Malala was sent for emergency surgery, however, the danger to her life from further attacks as well as the needed advanced medical care soon found Malala in Birmingham, England.  The international outrage further raised the profile of Malala and other women in communities where education and other basic rights were being abridged by ideologies, religious and otherwise.

The documentary shares Malala's story to date, weaving documentary crew footage with various speeches and ceremonies where Malala offers her powerful words against inequality and the great potential of children and youth if they are able to access education.  She visits refugee camps, schools in remote villages around the world and brings their voices as well when asked to visit dignitaries and other world leaders.  She is also shown to be a mischievous sister to her two brothers as well as a young woman struggling to navigate various cultural values and religious expectations as the family lives now in the United Kingdom yet yearns to return home to the Swat Valley.

The 2014 Nobel Peace Prize is certainly a great accomplishment for a young woman.  Without a doubt, many more honors and many more years of speaking truth to power for the vulnerable and marginalized are surely in Malala's future!

About her best-selling biography:  "I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban" (Little Brown, and Company, 2013)

About the documentary:   Visit its website and view the trailer:


An intimate portrait of Malala Yousafzai, who was wounded when Taliban gunmen opened fire on her and her friends’ school bus in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. The then 15-year-old teenager, who had been targeted for speaking out on behalf of girls’ education in her region of Swat Valley in Pakistan, was shot in the head, sparking international media outrage. An educational activist in Pakistan, Yousafzai has since emerged as a leading campaigner for the rights of children worldwide and in December 2014, became the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.  89 min.  PG13

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