She had read of queens and presidents in books, but Malala Yousafzai wasn't dreaming of being on stage receiving the Clinton Global Citizen Award from the hands of Queen Rania of Jordan when she rode the bus to school every day. She simply wanted a better tomorrow, to break the cycle of poverty and injustice that enslaved so many women in her village. It was the shot heard around the world that catapulted Malala to last night's stage at the Clinton Global Citizens Awards ceremony. Last October 9, 2012, a member of the Taliban walked onto Malala's school bus, shot her in the head, said, "Let that be a lesson to you," and left her, presumably, for dead. Thankfully, with the help of people in her village, and global citizens around the world, she lived.
It was a lesson alright. As Queen Rania said in her opening remarks, before presenting Malala with the Clinton Global Citizens Award for Civil Society, "It was a lesson in how education triumphs over violence... And it was a lesson in how one person, one young girl, can inspire a global movement to create meaningful change."
It all started in a small village in the northwestern region of Pakistan. Malala describes watching helplessly, in horror, for years as innocent people in her village, Mingora, were slaughtered. Girls were forbidden from going to school. Women were restricted from going to the market. Hundreds of schools were blasted. And the price of dissent was death. Amidst this danger and destruction, Malala dared to defy the Taliban. And she lived. In Malala's words:
We raised our voice. My father spoke. I spoke. And my friends spoke. We said that in this modern era, even disabled and special children are educated. On the other hand, we women and girls are forced back to the Stone Age. We raised our voice for the education of every child, and now schools are reopened and many girls are going back to schools.
Why is Malala fighting so hard for education? It is not just for women and girls in her village. She desires to save children around the world from poverty, from child labor, from forced marriages and from terrorism. At age 16, under five feet tall, she speaks firmly, saying, "I know the issues are complex and enormous. But the solution is one and simple. That is education, education, education." Through the Malala Fund, Malala vows to educate children, especially girls. The Malala Fund will build schools and empower teachers. Malala will recognize other girls who "despite the horrors of norms, traditions and taboos, fight for their rights." With seed funding from some of the world's most recognized leaders and celebrities, the Malala Fund is already, in under a year of existence, educating 40 young girls, who were rescued from child labor.
Malala firmly believes that books, pens and teachers are the best weapons against terrorism. Six of the seven Clinton Global Citizens honored last night are also transforming the world one empowered individual at a time, advocating, through their actions, that education and empowerment are the best tools for peace and prosperity. Bunker Roy, the founder of the Barefoot College, is teaching grandmothers around the world how to power their villages with solar. Jessamyn W. Rodriguez, founder and CEO of Hot Bread Kitchen, is educating her workforce with the math and English necessary to break out of the lowest levels of the kitchen. Elias Taban, a former child soldier in southern Sudan, is building infrastructure, providing jobs and leading peace negotiations between warring tribes. And Adam Lowry and Eric Ryan, the co-founders of Method, have redefined how soap "fights dirty," by educating consumers on sustainability through their home care products.
Malala Yousafzai is one of the greatest examples the world has ever seen that the pen is mightier than the gun. If you'd like to help her work, visit MalalaFund.org. For more information on the Clinton Global Citizens honored this year, visit ClintonGlobalInitiative.org.