"I speak, not for myself, but for those without voice to be heard. Those who have fought for their rights; their right to live in peace; their right to be treated with dignity; their right to equality of opportunity; their right to be educated." - Malala Yousafzai
We sit in a conference room at the UN on the day before Malala Yousafzai's birthday -- hundreds of youth leaders from around the world, between the ages of 18 and 25 attending an orientation session to prepare us for July 12. We are asked to stand to represent our continents. We are asked to stand to acknowledge each other.
Several minutes later, we break into groups to discuss the problems we see or face with the education systems in our countries. In my group, 75 percent say 'equity of education.' I hang on to the comment of one young man who mentions the importance of building education systems that inspire students to become avid learners and critical thinkers, that cater to students with different learning strengths and abilities. Education for all is not just about constructing a classroom and providing pens and paper, but about laying the groundwork for quality education.
Later, when we brainstorm hypothetical actions to take to fuel the movement for global education we consider for several minutes. Then we rewind. We rewind back to the foundation of all progressive development campaigns -- to the need for a mentor system, community support, and hope. Before we can implement and build effective education systems we need to engage more youth in a democratic research process to figure out how the implementation of education can be successful in areas of the world with diverse cultural values, circumstances, and requirements. We need mentor support to empower youth leaders around the globe to become advocates for sustainable and quality education. We need to listen more to a younger demographic, and we need, not to speak for them, but to give them the tools and confidence to speak for themselves.
On Malala Day the same group of youth leaders from the previous day filters into the Trusteeship Council Chamber for the UN Youth Assembly to celebrate the birthday of Malala Yousafzai, the now sixteen-year-old education advocate shot by the Taliban last October. We listen, compelled by the words of UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown; the words of President of the UN General Assembly, Vuk Jeremić; and the address of UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon. We are encouraged to soar on the wings of belief and willpower. "Remember," we are told, "this should not be the only day to push for global education. We must continue to push until all children are in school. It is our responsibility to transform the future into the future we really want."
They are right. They are right, and it is empowering because this last piece, about responsibility, is spot-on. We do need to be held accountable for how we choose to act. And we need to be thoughtful so that when we do act we do so with intention.
Malala stands wearing an old shawl of Benazir Bhutto's. She glows in pink, amidst the darker colors of the UN members around her. I cannot imagine how tired she must be -- at 16 years of age, shuffled around the world to meet people who are drawn to her, not only because they honor her, but also because their egos want a piece of the symbol she has become. I am more than impressed when she stands in front of hundreds of young men and women and press staff delivering a speech, which highlights not only the importance of education, but her deep faith in God. She opens with a Muslim greeting and profession of peace, and she is undaunted.
Malala opens her speech by saying 'thank you,' by saying how she has been inspired by leaders of the past. As she begins to speak about education we clap. Her words resonate because, like Ban Ki Moon she has lived the value of education, not just "studied it in a textbook." Malala has been called one of the most courageous girls in the world. And when you hear her speak and simultaneously reflect on her remarkable story, which is only continuing to evolve, it becomes clear that this title is fitting. Malala's courage is a global gift; already it has inspired millions of people around the world to stand up for the importance of education, and during the UN Youth Assembly it inspires hundreds of young people in the audience to stand together to clap for something I believe we will all raise our hands for again and again into the future.
During Malala Day there are many inspiring stories woven into the Youth Assembly agenda. On the floor of the Trusteeship Council Chamber, young men and women with disabilities and crippling family circumstances share their personal education stories. At the Youth Fair UNICEF, Plan, the Global Campaign for Education, Room to Read, and Save the Children teach us about the value of education through the stories of the children, young men, and young women they have encountered on the ground. Malala Day is powerful because of the stories of hundreds of remarkable young people.
In the midst of all that energy we are left thinking: what next? If this day is simply the beginning of a much larger pledge to involve young people in advocacy for global education how do we begin to act?
Before we act we need to understand. We need to highlight the most elementary teaching tool -- stories -- so that the education we push to implement is quality education, built on connectivity, understanding, and collaboration. On October 11, 2013 is International Day of the Girl. On that day, events will take place all over the world to celebrate the value of girls' education. If we begin with a common narrative -- the importance of girls' education-- then we begin a movement to mobilize support for a marginalized demographic that has statistically proven it will work, on the ground, to make global education a reality. Invest in a girl's education and that educated girl will subsequently invest in education for her whole family. In this way we can all use International Day of the Girl as a milestone for the larger global education campaign. If we spread awareness through film, we compel eyes, ears, minds, and hearts to first listen, then to care, and finally to act. The film, Girl Rising, is a tool in that process. It is a tool for awareness and connectivity, and it is an educational tool. On International Day of the Girl this tool will connect communities everywhere through global events aimed at raising awareness about the importance of girls' education.
If we are to change the world we first need to understand what that means, practically, and how we can work together to implement change on the ground. Education is where the global movement for education begins. Collaboration will move this movement forward.
Near the end of the assembly Gordon Brown stands. He addresses us: "You can live for 60 days without food. You can live for eight days without water. You can live for three minutes without air. You cannot survive a second without hope." Malala's greatest gift is hope -- as the girl who rose. If one girl with courage is a revolution then imagine what millions of men, women, girls, and boys with courage will mean.