Malala Yousafzai is spending her 16th birthday in New York City! The world will be celebrating with her as she makes her first public speech since being shot by the Taliban in Pakistan a year ago. On July 12, now also called Malala Day, she will lead a gathering of young adults from more than 80 countries for a special United Nations Youth Assembly.
The event is being held in support of the UN Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative. A set of education demands, written by the world’s youth, will be delivered to the highest leadership of the UN.
Millions of words have been written about this young woman’s immense courage, strength and sheer willpower. She is now based in the United Kingdom and her father, who ran the school Malala attended when she was injured, is now working for the Pakistani Embassy in London. She is safe, back in school and soaking up all the learning she can, as she continues to advocate for the 57 million children currently not in school.
As we take inspiration from Malala, I also pause to take inspiration from her parents. Here are five things I’ve observed from Malala’s story that not only motivate me to get involved in the fight for education for all, but also inspire me to be a better parent.
1. Respect our kids.
Malala’s father Ziauddin Yousafzai called the world to action. “With my daughter I did only one thing: I honored her as an individual. I respected her as a person.” That is what we all must do for the youth of the world to unlock their full potential.
2. Challenge disempowering traditions.
In a society where Malala’s parents could have easily decided it was too hard to fight local customs, they have put their lives on the line to protect their daughter’s right to education. A chance at education and a better life began with questioning the status quo and being part of the movement for change.
3. Stand up for our children.
In the face of an attack on their child’s life, Malala’s parents have stood up for their daughter on every level, moving to a new country to protect her, beginning a new career, in her father’s case, and continuing to defy the Taliban by pursuing Malala’s education.
4. Embrace bold possibilities.
Malala’s parents have changed the future of their family for generations to come. By quietly educating the girls in his community, her father has helped ignite action through his daughter that has impacted millions.
5. Education is worth every sacrifice.
It’s unlikely when he started a school for girls in Pakistan that Ziauddin Yousafzai saw his daughter standing at the podium at UN headquarters in New York. Not many of our children will do such things. But if we don’t open the doors, we will never know whose lives they can impact for good.
Take Action Challenge
There are great parents all around the world who are helping their kids make a mark on this world, and bold children who are standing up for a better future. Stand with Malala! Sign this petition from A World at School that will be delivered to the UN Secretary-General on Friday demanding urgent action to ensure access to education for all children by 2015. You can also join Girl Up and send a birthday message to Malala!