I am Malala
Reflective essay by Aria Deshpande
When the whole world is silent, even one voice is powerful enough to make a difference. In Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography, her story-telling paints a vivid picture of life in the Swat Valley and of how basic freedoms, especially for girls and women, were denied by the Taliban. Through her acts of bravery, Malala Yousafzai’s story highlights the importance of both girls and boys education in Pakistan, as well as presents how she utilized her sudden fame and success to help those less fortunate than her, she also began to participate in public speaking which she used to speak up against the taliban. After reading the book “I am Malala”, I realize how much I take for granted in life. I’ve never really thought about all the freedom I have living in the United States of America. Basic freedom, such as the ability to speak one’s mind without having to worry about being killed is not something that younger generations have to worry about in this country. I am fortunate to have a happy and healthy life and have a good education. Students in this country, including me on occasion, complain about having to go to school when there are children in many parts of the world who wish they had an opportunity to learn.
Malala Yousafzai who was born in the rural village of Mingora in Swat Valley, North Western Pakistan in 1997. Malala has become widely known across the globe for being an inspirational activist in support of girl’s rights to education. Her story propelled in to Western media when she was shot on her school bus by a member of the Taliban in Pakistan 2012 at 15-years old. Previous to her attack, Malala had made her beliefs and outrage towards the Taliban destroying schools in her area alongside encouraging women to abide by their interpretation of Islamic law public through various TV and radio interviews. The young Malala’s story of survival and continued activism has carried on receiving attention from Western media in Britain and the US. As Malala grows up and accumulates an increasingly impressive resume of fighting for political causes, she inevitably begins to rise to prominence, with somewhat mixed results. Humanitarian organizations give her lavish awards, often for many thousands of dollars, singling her out for her bravery and integrity. However, Malala’s first efforts at “being famous” are clumsy and uneven, as she herself acknowledges. She complains that traveling to accept lots of awards is actually counterproductive, because it distracts her from writing articles and making radio broadcasts in support of the causes she’s supposed to be fighting for. Since her attack, opportunities arose for Malala due to the mass of people that had heard her story. For instance, after her recovery she delivered a powerful and motivational speech to the United Nations. In addition to writing a national bestseller about her experience, she was also able to found the “Malala Fund” through which she can help empower and educate women in oppressed situations all over the world:
My goal in writing this book was to raise my voice on behalf of the millions of girls around the world who are being denied their right to go to school and realise their potential. I hope my story will inspire girls to raise their voice and embrace the power within themselves, but my mission does not end there. My mission, our mission, demands that we act decisively to educate girls and empower them to change their lives and communities. That is why I have set up the Malala Fund. The Malala Fund believes that each girl, and boy, has the ability to change the world and that all she needs is a chance (Yousafzai 327).
This statement emphasizes that “I Am Malala” is constructed to further her ambition in sharing her story to empower the voiceless and help the Malala Fund aid children’s access to an education. Alongside proving her ambitions for the book, Yousafzai shines a light towards the potential a narrative surrounding her story possesses to influence change across the globe. One may speculate the media have repeatedly materialised stories surrounding Malala due to the story’s ability to be a highly impactful reflection on cultural and political climates of today. Malala later answers the question that the taliban asked before they shot at her, “Who is Malala? I am Malala, and this is my story” (Yousafzai 12); Malala ends the memoir’s short prologue by echoing the question that the Taliban militant asked before shooting her in the face. In these pages she finally gets the chance to answer the question, which she did not have when it happened. She claims her name and her identity, in spite of the Taliban attempting to silence her.
Eager to impress her father, Malala decided to enter a public speaking competition, just as her father did when he was a young man, and realized that it doesn’t matter what language you choose to speak in as long as you use your words to express your opinions. Malala made a speech written by her father, as was the custom. When she made her speech before a large audience, she was extremely nervous. At the end of the competition she came in second, and her best friend Moniba won:
It didn’t matter. Lincoln also wrote in the letter to his son’s teacher, ‘ teach him how to gracefully lose.’ I was used to coming top of my class but I realize that even if you win three or four times the next Victory will not necessarily be yours without trying- and also that sometimes it’s better to tell your own story. I started writing my own speeches and changing the way I delivered them, from my heart rather than from a sheet of paper ( Yousafzai 79).
Just like her father, Malala gets involved in public speaking, which serves as a springboard for her eventual role in speaking out against the Taliban. She realizes quickly, however, that there is more to speaking than just reading off a piece of paper. She needs to speak with emotion and bring in her own personal experiences if she is to make an impact on her listeners. This lesson will remain with her as she achieves international fame. As Malala looks back on the major influences in her life—her father, her mother, Benazir Bhutto, and Fatima—we begin to notice something. There’s no reason why Malala had to imitate Fatima by making speeches of her own—she could have given up and never made a speech again. Similarly, Malala could have seen her father’s eloquence and charisma as unattainable, and thus been discouraged in developing her own charisma. In other words, the notion of a “role model” suggests that Malala is a product of her environment, someone responding to the influence of people around her. But I Am Malala also suggests that people have control over who their role models are, and what kind of influence they exert. Malala isn’t simply influenced by the people around her—she chooses to be influenced by them, and then takes actions of her own.
In speaking out for education, Malala was never motivated by a desire for fame or fortune. She knew that she had grown up fortunate to be able to attend school and learn, while many other girls around her did not have the privilege of receiving an education:
As we crossed the Malakand Pass I saw a young girl selling oranges. She was scratching marks on a piece of paper with a pencil to account for the oranges she had sold as she could not read or write. I took a photo of her and vowed I would do everything in my power to help educate girls like her. This was the war I was going to fight (Yousafzai 217).
If this poor young girl had the opportunity to go to school,she would not be destined for a life like this. With an education, a little girl like the one selling oranges would not be put to work at such a young age, she would not lack the basic knowledge of writing numbers, and she would not have to live uncomfortably for the rest of herlife. She could go to college, get a job, and even enter the world of politics, making sure that no other little girl has to face the same challenges of poverty as she did. It is so important for women to go to school, so they can earn degrees, get a career,and gain the independence that are holding most women back. Malala’s hope is that someday soon, women will have the same rights as men, not only in pakistan, but also all over the world. The root of our world’s problems can be solved by educating it s women, because instead of having them work their lives away, either by selling oranges or being responsible for the house or family, they could be learning about the world’s opportunities and the benefits that accumulate from them. We need our worlds population of women to become entrepreneurs, investors, and empowered overall, instead of being confined to their homes, unable to go outside without a male escort. In countries like the United States, it is our job to encourage women’s right to go to school in countries less fortunate than ours. Every day we take advantage of our right to go to school, when so many others do nothing but dream of such privileges. It is moments like these—observing the people around her—when she remembers what she is truly fighting for, and why it is all worth it.
Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography “I am Malala” paints a vivid picture of life in the Swat Valley and of how basic freedoms, especially for girls and women, were denied by the Taliban and the government.