GORHAM – Malala Yousafzai was born on July 12, 1997, in Mingora, Pakistan.
At the age of 11, Malala started writing a blog for the BBC about her life under the Taliban. She quickly became known for her activism on behalf of education and women’s rights.
In 2009, when Malala was 12, the Taliban banned girls from attending school in the region where Malala lived. On Oct. 9, 2012, the Taliban stopped Malala’s school bus and shot her in the head.
Miraculously, she survived the assassination attempt but was unconscious and in critical condition. Malala was quickly evacuated to a hospital in Birmingham, England.
On Jan. 3, she was released from the hospital and has since gone through extensive rehabilitation treatment and surgery to reconstruct her skull. Malala is recovering well. She is able to get up, walk and talk and has even written down her story, which is expected to come out as a book at the end of this year.
Last month, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that Malala would travel to the United States in July to speak at the United Nations.
This shooting of Malala has sparked action and reaction all across the world.
In the United Kingdom, Brown, now a U.N. special envoy for global education, launched a U.N. petition. The petition uses the slogan “I am Malala,” and calls for all children worldwide to be enrolled in school by the end of 2015. Brown delivered the petition to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in November 2012.
In the United States, Angelina Jolie, special envoy for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and her organization, the Education Partnerships for Children of Conflict, donated $50,000 to the Women in the World Foundation to help increase education accessibility and women’s rights.
In a joint statement, Jolie and Brown said, “As a response to her bravery, girls across Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the world are standing up and saying, ‘I am Malala’ — and this is our opportunity to show the same solidarity.”
The heinous attack on Malala last fall inspired me, as secretary-general for the University of Southern Maine’s Maine Model United Nations Conference, to declare this year’s theme to be youth and women empowerment.
I also called for the creation of the 29th U.N. Special Session on the Status of Women and Girls, one of 10 committees simulated at this year’s Maine Model U.N. Conference, held May 14-16 on USM’s Gorham campus.
For 15 years, USM’s Maine Model U.N. has been committed to providing Maine’s high school students with a unique and challenging experience that increases their global awareness. We are the only Model U.N. in the state, and without it, many Maine students would not have the opportunity to gain advanced understanding of world affairs.
The Model U.N. Conference has evolved from a few students meeting in Augusta for a day, to a three-day conference hosted by USM with more than 400 participants from dozens of high schools in Maine and New England.
The Maine Model U.N. Conference, and Model U.N. in general, help students gain and enhance a variety of skills, among them improved verbal and written communications; negotiating skills; empathy; leadership; critical thinking; and confidence. By gaining substantive knowledge about other countries, cultures and issues, these students have a better understanding of the challenges facing our global community.
At the age of 14, Malala is the same age as many students who participated at the Maine Model U.N. Conference. It is important that we take time to reflect on the tragic event that took place.
For a radical group to attempt to assassinate a 14-year-old girl because of her courage to speak out against oppression and express her desire to receive an education is both pathetic and cowardly.
We are lucky that we live in a society where we all have the right to an education. According to the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 61 million children in the world do not have the privilege of going to school.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has declared Nov. 10 as Malala Day, which is intended to represent the goal of education for all children worldwide. Let us honor Malala by acknowledging that all children have the right to an education and by condemning those efforts to suppress and silence this vision.
Tim Stretton graduated from the University of Southern Maine in May, earning a bachelor of arts in political science with a concentration in international studies. He served as secretary-general for the Maine Model United Nations Conference XV.