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Dublin: 1 °C Sunday 23 November, 2014

Column: They shot her at point blank range in the head – but it made her stronger

Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban last year. Today, on her 16th birthday, she will lead the first ever youth takeover of the UN in New York to speak about the importance education, writes Kelley Farrell.

Kelley Farrell

ON THE MORNING of October 9th 2012, 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai a teenage activist from Pakistan was on her way to school as normal. However, on that day, a Taliban militia boarded her school bus, asked which one was Malala and shot her in the head a point blank range. Mercifully, she survived.

Today, Malala turns 16. She will mark the day by leading the first ever youth takeover of the UN in New York. She will address some 650 children and youths, urging governments and leaders to tackle the issue of millions of girls and boys missing from schools worldwide. This will be her first major appearance since the assassination attempt.

Malala has lent her support to Plan’s “Raise your Hand” for girl’s education which is part of Plan’s Because I am a Girl campaign. It is the first time Malala has supported an international non-governmental organisation’s education initiative.

Plan Ireland Youth Ambassador, Kelley Farrell from Co Roscommon looks at Malala’s situation and contrasts it with hers, as an Irish 16-year-old.

I remember my 16th birthday. I was really looked forward to having some fun, meeting up with my friends and maybe getting something nice from my mum and dad. I didn’t have to worry about anything.  I just had a great feeling of suspense and excitement. For Malala however, as she prepares to address the UN, I imagine her emotions will be a little different.

Since hearing about Malala’s story I’ve been amazed by her resilience and courage. I admire her so much and how she has coped with what she went through. I can’t imagine ever having to deal with what she did.

I’ve read about how, since the age of 11, using a pseudonym, Malala secretly wrote a blog for the BBC which described the struggles faced by girls trying to receive an education under the Taliban.

In her blog, she wrote about her home, how beautiful it was but that there was no peace. In one entry, she wrote about her favourite pink dress, how it could get her into trouble as the Taliban disapproved of bright colours. It just seems so strange that somebody my age might be at risk simply for wearing a certain coloured dress.

I feel lucky to have had ccess to good education

As someone who is the same age as Malala, she’s really made me feel lucky to have access to good education and opportunities. I know that if I work hard, I can achieve whatever I want. I know I can go to go to college, become a politician or whatever I wish. Unlike Malala, I’ve no major obstacles or constraints which can’t be overcome.

I am able to go and meet up with my friends, without having to worry about who might be watching me or if the authorities will disapprove. I am also able to really enjoy lots of varied activities, from football, camogie, ballet and art. I know that unlike millions of girls such as Malala, I can do lots of different things and try out new experiences.

However, I also know that there are millions of “other Malalas” across the world – a whole generation of girls and boys who are excluded daily from learning by violence, discrimination or harmful traditional practices.

Girls like May* who was 12 when she was kidnapped on her way to school and forced to become a child bride. Rather than completing her education, she will now take care of her new family, work on the field and give birth.

“I was on my way home from school. Together with three men, this boy caught me and tied me up. They carried me to the boy’s house and locked me in a small room for three days. His parents brought alcohol and money to my brother’s house. My brother accepted the price and I became the boy’s wife. I dearly miss my hour-long walk to school.”

I just can’t picture how anyone would be married at the age of twelve.

Malala has become a beacon of inspiration for girls like me. I’m really looking forward to tuning into Malala’s address tomorrow and wishing her a happy birthday.

Keep up the struggle for girls’ rights

I’d really love to meet her one day. I’d tell her to keep fighting, keep up the struggle for girls’ rights and education. I believe that as soon as one person stands up, more and more will follow. We really need people like her to inspire us.

Sometimes, we might think that school today is boring, that it’s a pain to have to spend the day in a classroom with a teacher you might not always get on with or that we get too much homework. However, it hardly matters when you consider what Malala has been through. I’m sure she would have loved to be able to go to school where the only complaint is that sometimes it can be a little dull!

Malala has lent her support to Plan’s own “Raise your Hand” drive for girl’s education which is part of Plan’s Because I am a Girl campaign.

Earlier this year, I was so proud to organise my own classmates as we showed our support for Malala by raising our hands for girls’ education. I know it’s a little thing, but I feel that my friends and I showed at least in a small way, that we back Malala and really respect what she’s done for girls’ around the world.

Happy Birthday Malala and many more.

Kelley Farrell is a youth ambassador for Plan Ireland.

Plan’s Becauase I am a Girl programme is works to support millions more girls, girls like May, to realise their right to an education which is currently being denied. Plan is at the forefront in helping children to achieve their potential, last year they worked with 84 million children worldwide.

So far, more than 670,000 people around the world have raised their hands. The goal is to reach 1 million raised hands by October, when Plan will present them to the United Nations General Assembly calling for action.

To join Malala and ‘Raise your Hand’ for girls’ education go to www.plan.ie

Malala’s speech to the UN will be broadcast live by Plan http://www.malaladayhub.org/

*’May’ is not her real name



Uploaded by Plan International

Read: Malala to undergo skull surgery: Pakistan
Read: Teenage Pakistani activist shot by Taliban to remain in the UK
Read: Malala Yousafzai to receive Tipperary International Peace Award

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