Malala Yousafzai never thought she would be celebrating her sixteenth birthday giving a speech in front of the United Nations. That her birthdate would be declared as Malala Day for the whole world to celebrate forever.
This is a story of how that young girl would have felt before stepping on the stage. This is my version of her thoughts.
She firmly believed that ‘we realise the importance of light when we see darkness’. She knew that ‘our words can change the world’.
She had lived in darkness with hundreds of children in Swat Valley, Pakistan. But she had seen darkness and lived to come to light. She fought to stay alive and realise her dream.
She saw the faces of Young Education Activists seated in the hall. All of them had been invited to be a part of the first Young Takeover at the United Nations Assembly. They all had fought for educational rights in their countries.
She was not alone. They were together in this fight.
She had put on her favourite pink suit. She felt confident. Her journey of overcoming grievous obstacles and darkness had filled her with courage.
She saw the honourable elders seated across the hall. They had fought for educational and other rights for humanity and hence, recognised with her struggle. They were interested in knowing her journey and her plans to continue the struggle.
She listened attentively to the opening addresses. She was happy at her restored hearing, something that she had come very close to losing because of the shooting. She could hear the world leaders because of the treatment received in the UK. The timely treatment to save her life.
They had declared July 12th as Malala Day. She wondered why was it named so.
Do they want to celebrate my birthday with me? She thought.
She was fighting for education, especially for girls. She would have loved if it was called World Girls’ Education Day instead.
Thinking of her fight, her mind wandered to October 9th, 2012. Her favourite subject, physics, had taught her that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Less than 9 months ago, she was shot for her beliefs. Some people back home were afraid of her strength and courage. She was giving interviews everywhere, speaking boldly of how important education was, especially for girls. Her mother had been worried that she might draw too much attention by speaking in public.
She could relive that day clearly, even after she was shot. Half conscious, in the state of trauma caused by the injury, her worry was her family. If they would have to suffer the burden of her beliefs. She wasn’t sure if she would live to see her family, but she wanted them to be safe and happy.
Today, her family had been given safe house by the United Kingdom. It wasn’t a home she had dreamed of, but it had saved her and her family’s lives. It was safer than her real home. She could go to school with other kids, without the risk of losing her life.
But she missed her friends. She missed Shazia, her best friend. She wished she was here to witness the best birthday celebration Malala could have asked for.
She hadn’t seen a gun after that fateful day. It was unusual for her and her family.
The applaud on the opening address pulled her back to reality. She felt a different kind of calmness in this protected environment amongst the world leaders.
She adjusted the stole on her head and shoulder. It felt very smooth against her skin, even against the faded scar on her forehead from the gunshot wound. She touched the part of the skull where the titanium implant had been put to restore her damaged skull.
She felt gratitude. She was happy to be alive, to be wearing her favourite colour on her birthday.
The feeling of being a candidate for Nobel Peace Prize hadn’t yet set in. She still felt like a 16-year old, who had just got what she wanted the most. To be able to study.
A young boy sitting in the row above her smiled at her. He was black. The placard in front of him said ‘Youth Delegate’. She felt shy at being watched and acknowledged by a young boy. Any kind of contact between males and females was forbidden where she came from. Here, it seemed normal. She got positive vibes everywhere she looked.
She decided to return the gesture and smiled back at him to convey reverence. She loved the fact that she was considered an equal in this hall, in this part of the world. Her parents had treated her at par with their sons. Here, she felt people shared their mentality.
The United Nations Secretary General was invited to the stage to give a speech.
She always wondered what his story would be. What all he would have gone through before assuming this position of responsibility. What would be the story of everyone sitting next to him at the leadership table.
A leader on the table reminded her of her father. He sat with the same stature and composure. He caught her watching him and smiled. Conscious, she was about to pull her stance away but his smile was very reassuring. She felt confident, again.
She decided to return the gesture, again. This time, her smile accompanied a nod. Something she had recently learnt in her new home.
Her thoughts wandered away again to the schooling system back in Pakistan and here in the UK.
She recalled her first day at school months after being brought to the UK for surgery and recovery. Here too, she went to a girl’s school. Other than that, everything had changed. She felt many eyes on her. None wore a hijab like her, but everyone was welcoming. She felt confident in every stride she took. Though she missed her classmates and her teachers, she felt loved by everyone in the UK.
Her stupor was broken when the Secretary General mentioned her name in his speech. He was applauding her efforts and reassuring her that she was not alone in the fight.
She smiled at the acknowledgement and appreciation.
It was her turn to address the room filled with leaders and activists like herself.
She got up from the seat and carried the folder which contained her speech. While walking towards the dais, she felt all eyes on her.
She could feel pride and awe in every sight. Her smile was back.
She wondered what had brought her to this place.
Was it being shot at by the Taliban? No, that couldn’t be. Hundreds were murdered by Taliban every day.
Was it being brought to the UK and surviving a gunshot to her forehead? Nope, that couldn’t be the reason either. Thousands, who had a mission in life, escaped death.
Was it because she was a Muslim girl who wanted to study? Nope, her country was filled with such inspiring women who made doctors, pilots and engineers.
Was it standing for your beliefs despite facing death as a punishment? Yes, that had to be it. Not everyone had the courage to stand for their beliefs in such dire circumstances. They had tried to silence her, but failed. That is why she was here.
She just realised she had changed the world. That is why she was there.