What We Can Learn From Malala

Everybody has heard her name at some point, but just who she is and what she stands for is not always well understood. Four years ago next month, a young girl from the Swat Valley region of Pakistan almost lost her life in the pursuit of something that, outside of war-torn countries, is often taken for granted. On one October day in 2012, Malala Yousafzai had her morning commute interrupted by two men aligned with the Taliban’s war on women’s education. They sought Malala out specifically and shot her and two friends. Later, it was found that they were prompted by a popular radio program led by a fundamentalist militant leader who threatened that society had no place for the kind of woman that didn’t conform to traditional Pakistani cultural expectations.

Almost miraculously, and with multiple facial reconstructive surgeries, Malala made a full recovery. Since then, she has become the world’s youngest Nobel Peace Prize recipient, traveling across seas to tell her story.

To me, Malala’s mythic tale is not what makes her such a compelling figure. This past summer I had the privilege to go with my camp to see Malala speak in Providence, and one thing was made especially clear to me: Malala does not see herself as the hero we paint her to be. She claimed that she did what anyone would: refusing to submit to the fear that her enemies tried to instill in her...the same fear and hatred that fueled their actions. This reinforces the idea that we all have the power and the voice to make change, regardless of wealth or social status.

Four years ago, Malala faced an unthinkable threat, and to this day is never guaranteed safety anywhere she goes. But throughout her visit to Providence, she did not define herself by what she did or by what happened to her. Malala spoke about the support of her family and how her father’s job as a schoolteacher is where her love of education began. She joked about how she’s the headstrong, brilliant older sister to two brothers. She even lamented how everyone in America is so preoccupied with Pokemon GO.

Malala is one of many seemingly ordinary people to accomplish what seems impossible. Your own potential for change in this world does not have to do with your status. So the next time you see that Leonardo DiCaprio did something philanthropic to benefit the environment, or Emma Watson started a campaign against some misogyny-perpetuating institution, it’s actually everyday people that carry their causes. Go forth, find an injustice, and think like Malala!