On July 12, 2013, hundreds of young leaders from over 75 nations gathered at the United Nations in New York City for the first-ever UN Youth Takeover. On the agenda? A promise and demand that all children, in every nation, receive the quality education they deserve. The event, officially known as Malala Day, was held in honor of Malala Yousafzai, the courageous Pakistani school girl who was shot by the Taliban last October after standing up for girls' right to an education. That day, we celebrated a day that the Taliban hoped she'd never live to see--her sixteenth birthday.
It was such an honor to attend Malala Day as a representative for She's the First, a non-profit organization that sponsors girls' education in developing nations so they can be the first in their families to graduate. It felt incredible to be surrounded by so many other young people just as passionate about education as I am. UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, kicked off the event by pointing out that "There is a new superpower in the world. It is the power of young people to change the world and deliver education for all!"
In her first public speech since the shooting, Malala made a bold claim.
"Malala Day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy, and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights...I speak not for myself, but so those without a voice can be heard; those who have fought for their right to live in peace; their right for equality of opportunity; their right to be educated."
For some, it may be hard to believe that Malala is only sixteen years old. Her words are as wise, eloquent, and powerful as someone who has lived a lifetime. Malala embodies the strength of my generation. We won't take no for an answer, we won't back down, and we will continue to take action until every child is in school. Malala's words give hope for the future and remind us of the bravery and determination of young people today.
As Malala spoke, I couldn't help but think of the 57 million children who are not presently enrolled in school. I also thought of the many ways that my generation is changing that.
At the UN, we demanded education for all. But it is not enough to solely demand education; we are demanding quality education, one which teaches youth to be socially responsible global citizens. In order to ensure that young people continue to take action, global citizenship must be taught from an early age.
During the Youth Assembly, a Youth Resolution was presented to world leaders. This resolution, titled "The Education We Want: Young People's Call for a Response to the Education Emergency" was developed by youth leaders and includes a six step process to providing the fundamental human right of education to all children by 2015. One of the steps emphasizes the importance of citizenship education in all schools.
As a recent college graduate who will be teaching 2nd grade this year, I've seen first-hand the value and impact of teaching young kids what it means to not only be citizens of their communities, but also citizens of the world. During my student teaching experience, I developed a program called GOAL Getters (Global Opportunities, Awareness and Leadership), in partnership with She's the First, to teach elementary school students about global citizenship through the core belief that "you're never too young to change the world."
My students learned about issues related to education inequality and worked together to solve related problems. By taking action, they raised enough money to sponsor nearly two years of school for a girl their same age in rural Nepal.
That is the power of education.
In the words of Malala, "One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. We must speak up. Education first!"
Whether you're a second grade student from North Carolina or a sixteen year old girl from Pakistan, you can make a difference. Malala Day brought young people together from around the world. Yes, we are young--but we are also full of ideas, ambition, and determination. And above all, we love sharing the message that you're truly never too young to change the world.
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