I Am Malala
Birmingham, England, June 2015
Two years have passed since my book came out, and three years since the October morning when I was shot by the Taliban on a school bus on my way home from class. My family has been through many changes. We were plucked from our mountain valley in Swat, Pakistan, and transported to a brick house in Birmingham, England’s, second-biggest city. Sometimes it seems so strange that I want to pinch myself. I’m seventeen now and one thing that has not changed is that I still don’t like getting up in the morning. The most astonishing thing is that it’s my father whose voice wakes me up now. He gets up first every day and prepares breakfast for me, my mother, and my brothers, Atal and Khushal. He doesn’t let his work go unnoticed, of course, going on about how he squeezes fresh juice, fries eggs, heats flat bread, and takes the honey out of the cupboard. “It’s only breakfast!” I tease. For the first time in his life, he also does the shopping, although he hates doing it. The man who didn’t even know the price of a pint of milk is such a frequent visitor to the supermarket that he knows where everything is on the shelves! “I’ve become like a woman, a true feminist!” he says, and I jokingly throw things at him.
My brothers and I then all rush off to our different schools. And so does our mother, Toor Pekai, which truly is one of the biggest changes of all. She is attending a language center five days a week to learn how to read and write and also to speak English. My mother had no education and perhaps that was the reason that she always encouraged us to go to school. “Don’t wake up like me and realize what you missed years later,” she says. She faces so many challenges in her daily life because up until now she’s had difficulty communicating when she’s gone shopping, or to the doctor or the bank. Getting an education is helping her become more confident, so that she can speak up outside the home, not just inside it with us.
Two years ago I thought we would never feel settled here, but now Birmingham has started to feel like home. It will never be Swat, which I miss every day, but these days, when I travel to other places and return to this new house, it does feel like home. I have even stopped thinking about the constant rain, although I laugh when my friends here complain about the heat when it’s 68 or 77 degrees Fahrenheit. To me, that feels like spring. I am making friends at my new school, although Moniba is still my best friend and we Skype for hours at a time to catch up on everything. When she talks about the parties back in Swat, I so wish I were there. Sometimes I talk to Shazia and Kainat, the other two girls who were shot on the bus and are now at Atlantic College in Wales. It is hard for them being so far away and in such a different culture, but they know they have a great opportunity to fulfill their dreams of helping their communities.
The school system here is very different from the one we had in Pakistan. In my old school I was considered “the smart girl.” I had this idea that I would always be the smartest one and that whether I worked hard or not, I would always come in first. Here in the UK, the teachers expect more from their students. In Pakistan, we used to write long answers. You really could write anything you liked; sometimes the examiners would get tired and give up reading part of the way through but still give you high marks! In England, the questions are often longer than the answers. Perhaps the expectations in Pakistan were lower because it was so challenging just to be in school. We didn’t have good science labs, computers or libraries. All we had was a teacher with a whiteboard standing in front of the students and their textbooks. Back home I was considered a bookish girl because I had read eight or nine books. But when I came to the UK I met girls who had read hundreds. Now I realize I’ve read hardly anything at all, and I want to read all those hundreds of books. Next year I’ll do my GCSEs and then I will do my A levels and hope to go to university to study politics and philosophy.
I’m still hopeful that I can return to Swat and see my friends, my teachers, my school and my house again. Perhaps it will take time but I’m sure it will be possible one day. My dream is to return to the country where I was born and serve the people. I dream that one day I will be an influential politician in Pakistan. Sadly, Maulana Fazlullah, the man who was the head of the Swat Taliban who shot me, is now the head of the whole Pakistan Taliban. That has made it even riskier for me to return. But even if there were no threat, I believe that I must get an education to strengthen myself for the fight I will surely have against ignorance and terrorism. My plan is to learn more about history, to meet interesting people and listen to their opinions.
I’m very busy with school and events, but I have made friends and we chat on our breaks and at lunchtime. They like to talk about sports while I like reading Time and The Economist. Anyway, we don’t have much time—school here is a lot of work!
Thanks to the extraordinary doctors here, my health is good. When I first got out of hospital, I had physiotherapy once a week to help me heal, and I needed a lot of support. The doctors say that my facial nerve is now recovered up to 96 percent. The cochlear implant has helped my hearing and the doctors say that in the future they may come up with even newer, better technology. I don’t get headaches anymore and I play sports, though people still take care not to throw a ball at my head! I’m fairly good in some sports, like rounders and cricket, though of course my brothers disagree.
My brothers have settled in, though I fight with Khushal as much as ever. Atal makes us all laugh. He uses very dramatic language and is so full of energy that he makes us all tired.
Recently we had a fight because he took an iPod that had been given to me. “Malala, I have taken it as I know you already have two.” I said, “The thing is, you can’t take something without permission.”
Atal is very good at spontaneous tears, so he started crying. “I need something to enjoy my life,” he wailed. “I’m living in this house and it’s like a prison. Malala, people call you the bravest girl in the world but I say you are the cruelest girl in the world! You brought us here and you can’t even give me an iPod!”
Many of our friends back in Pakistan probably think we are very lucky to live in England in a nice, brick house and go to good schools. My father is education attaché for the Pakistan consulate and adviser for global education for the UN. It would be a dream life for many young, ambitious Pakistanis.
But when you are exiled from your homeland, where your fathers and forefathers were born and where you have centuries of history, it’s very painful. You can no longer touch the soil or hear the sweet sound of the rivers. Fancy hotels and meetings in palaces cannot replace the sense of home.
I see this so clearly with my mother. Physically she’s in Birmingham, but mentally she’s in Swat—her homesickness is horrible. Sometimes she spends more of her day talking on the phone to her family and friends in Swat than she does with us.
But recently the Royal Society of Medicine held a ceremony in London to honor the doctors who saved my life and my mother sat on stage for the first time, which was a really big thing for her.
All of us have been overwhelmed by the warm reception we have received around the world and the reaction to the book, which has helped people to understand our story.
When I get prizes I send the money to Swat to help children go to school or adults buy small businesses, like a shop or a taxi to drive so that they can earn money for their families. We have received many letters, even one from an elderly man in Japan who wrote, “I am an old poor man but I want to help,” and sent us a note for ten thousand yen without a return address so that we couldn’t thank him.
With the Malala Fund, my organization, I went to Kenya to build a school for the people of Maasai Mara. The people were amazing—tall and proud, wrapped in bright scarlet blankets and telling us stories I could hardly believe were real. They were even richer than our Pashtun tales. None of the older Maasai have been educated, but now all the children are going to school. It is not easy as the government only gives them free education up until grade eight. After that, they have to pay themselves.
The Maasai told us that until recently, a boy would be circumcised and then had to go into the bush to kill two or more lions and bring back the carcasses. The elders would then yank out the boy’s two front teeth—imagine how painful!—and if he didn’t cry he would become a Maasai warrior.
Today their customs have changed. They told us if they kill all the lions the wildlife will disappear, so now those who become warriors are those with higher education, not those who kill lions. They will even have women Maasai warriors. And they have stopped circumcising their women.
I spent my seventeenth birthday in Nigeria, showing solidarity with the schoolgirls abducted from their dormitory in the dead of night by Boko Haram militants in April. Those girls were my age and all had dreams of being doctors or teachers or scientists. They were very brave and special girls, as only 4 percent of girls in northern Nigeria finish school. The world easily moves on to other issues and I don’t want people to forget. We will have another Malala Fund project there.
As part of our advocacy work with the Malala Fund, we went to the White House to meet Barack Obama. We met with Michelle Obama and their elder daughter, Malia, and were given honey from the White House bees. Then we visited with President Obama in the Oval Office, which was quite small. He came out to receive us. He listened to us very attentively.
When we were invited to the White House we said we would accept the invitation on one condition. If it’s just a photo session we would not go—but if Obama would listen to what was in our hearts, then we would. The message came back: you are free to say whatever you wish. And so we did! It was quite a serious meeting. We talked about the importance of education. We discussed the United States’ role in supporting dictatorships and drone attacks in countries like Pakistan. I told him that instead of focusing on eradicating terrorism through war, he should focus on eradicating it through education.
In the last year I have worked tirelessly in my role as an education activist through the Malala Fund. I have traveled to the conflict-hit areas to raise awareness about the plight of children who are deprived of an education. I have started projects in Jordan, Pakistan, Kenya and Nigeria. I have spoken to world leaders and encouraged them to raise the education budgets of their countries and pushed powerful nations to give greater education aid to developing ones. We are growing our work every day, but I know there is so much left to do. I thank God that I have been given this platform to campaign for. This is now my life’s work, my mission and my dream.
Through the Malala Fund, I decided to advocate for the education of Syrian refugees in Jordan. I went to the Syrian border and witnessed scores of refugees fleeing into Jordan. They had walked through the desert to get there with just the clothes on their backs. Many children had no shoes. I broke down and cried as I witnessed their suffering. In the refugee settlements most of the children were not going to school. Sometimes there was no school. Sometimes it was unsafe to walk to school. And sometimes children were working instead of being educated because their father had been killed. I saw many children on the roadside in this hot, hot weather, asking for work, such as carrying heavy stones, in order to feed their families.
I just felt such pain in my heart. What is their sin, what have they done that they’ve had to migrate? Why are these innocent children suffering such hardship? Why are they deprived of school and a peaceful environment?
I met a girl called Mizune who was my age. Every day she goes from tent to tent trying to persuade people to send their children to school. She told me that she wants to be a journalist so she can help people understand what’s going on. I asked her, “If you could do anything what would you do?” and she said, “I want to see my home again and stop these wars.”
We spoke to many agencies and raised awareness about the plight of refugees to help increase support for them. We also started projects on the ground with the Malala Fund to help integrate Syrian refugees into schools in Jordan.
I am a refugee, too, forced to live far away from my own country. As my father says, we might be the world’s best-treated refugees, in a nice house with everything we need, but we still yearn for our homeland. So much has changed these past years but really I am the same old Malala who was going to school in Swat. My life has changed but I have not. If you were to ask my mother she would say, “Well, maybe Malala has become wiser but she’s still the same quarrelsome girl at home whose shirt is in one place, trousers in another, the same messy girl who’s always crying, ‘I haven’t done my homework!’” Some things, even if they are small, do stay the same.