Last summer I read the book I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban for a book club. It's not often that I read a book and want to immediately share it with my daughters (mostly because their ages are 15, 13 and 7) but I found Yousafzai's memoir so compelling and inspiring, I couldn't help but share her story with my children. That summer, I read the book aloud to my girls nightly and found that not only did they love the book, but they also felt a strong connection to the author. Each evening as we curled up in one of their beds for the night's installment of the memoir, they became more invested in the story, interested in the issues the book raised, and inspired by her example. On a recent trip to the bookstore, my 7 year old saw a poster of Yousafzai and exclaimed with delight, "Look, it's Malala! Oh I just LOVE her!" And why not? They feel connected to and inspired by Malala in four key ways.
1. They see themselves in Malala. What struck me (and my daughters) was how relatable her story is. While it is true that Malala has faced more adversity than most of us ever will (political turmoil and the closing of her school, saying nothing of death threats and an assassination attempt!) there are also so many accessible aspects of her story. When Malala detailed familiar sibling dynamics, typical adolescent squabbles with friends, references to pop culture, etc. my daughters more than once said delightedly, "She's just like us!" Upon hearing Malala's teenage thoughts and concerns, my daughters realized she is not a mythological hero, but a "real girl" with the very same feelings and fears they themselves have experienced. Yes, Malala faced incredible odds under extreme circumstances, but there were many aspects of her life that resonated with my daughters. And the fact that Malala blogged for the BBC as a young teen under a pseudonym, well, that just solidified her standing as an "average teen" and upped her cool factor.
2. Malala introduced them to a whole new world. As much as Malala was someone "just like them" she was also a young woman with a very different experience. In hearing Malala's story, they learned about Pakistan, about a different culture and way of life, about the experience of living with and through war. When my daughters heard passages about Malala's home in Swat Valley, my girls wanted to see maps and photos to get a fuller picture and better understanding of a country they had never before considered. We had discussions about the Taliban, extremism and about the boundaries between religion and government. My two older girls were in awe of Malala's intricate explanations of the politics and power structure of the region and even started asking questions about our own system of government. Honestly, what parent isn't excited to find their child's curiosity peaked in so many areas by a book?
3. Malala stands up for what she believes in. Whether it is women's education, the right to express oneself freely, or the right for women to participate in government and politics, Malala is firm in her causes and does not back down from defending these rights. There's something so simple and so powerful in Yousafzai's conviction that,
“If one man can destroy everything, why can't one girl change it?”
This question really got my daughters thinking. Is it possible that we possess more power than we give ourselves credit for? Why do we let others' opinion of us limit how we see ourselves? What if we had the courage to stand up for what we believe in, would others be empowered to follow suit?
4. Malala is famous for all the right reasons. Given what is often highlighted in social media, gossip magazines, and other signposts of the cultural landscape, too many young people get the message that they should behave badly, treat others poorly or dress provocatively as a means to achieving instant celebrity. Malala however, didn't set a goal be famous and her activism is not dictated by an audience. Malala gained attention solely because of what she has overcome and what she has achieved. Malala isn't trying to grab her "15 minutes of fame" or chase the media for attention. Instead, Malala made headlines, not for what she wears or who she dates, but for the significant and lasting contributions she has made to the world. Just recently Malala turned 18, yet she has already published a book, opened a school for Syrian refugee girls, and won the Nobel Peace Prize. My daughters admire her, and rightfully so.
The movie He Named Me Malala comes out in theatres soon. Funding from supporters of the Students Stand With Malala screening program enables7th-12th grade teachers from select cities including Los Angeles can take their students to see HE NAMED ME MALALA Click here for more information and to set up a field trip through donors choose.