Malala was born into a Sunni Muslim family in Pakistan's Swat Valley, where she grew up in a house with two younger brothers, her parents, and two pet chickens. Malala and her brothers were educated by their father, a poet and school owner. From a very young age, he saw something special in his daughter, and allowed her to stay up at night to discuss politics after her brothers had gone to bed.
When Malala was just eleven years old, she began speaking locally about education rights. The Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist political movement, was increasing its military presence in the Swat Valley, and had begun destroying schools for girls in an effort to keep female students from attaining proper education. For Malala, the threat of losing her chance for an education was too serious to accept without standing up for it. So, when her father was approached by the BBC in search of a girl willing to anonymously submit reports about life under Taliban occupation, he suggested his own daughter. Despite the possibility of Taliban reprisals if her identity became known, Malala agreed, and started submitting her handwritten notes to the BBC.
Shortly after Malala's BBC blog began, the schools in the region closed for winter vacation. However, no one was excited, because the Taliban had set forth an edict to ban girls' education completely. This meant that, once they left, the female students had no idea when they could return to school. During the coming weeks, Taliban militants continued blowing up schools to enforce the education ban. And, even after the ban was publicly lifted, many families continued to keep their children (boys and girls alike) home from school. Finally, government forces began clearing the region of Taliban militancy in an effort to avert further violence.
Throughout all of this, Malala's blogs continued, attracting growing interest around the world as she reported openly on what she saw: "It seems that it is only when dozens of schools have been destroyed and hundreds others closed down that the army thinks about protecting them. Had they conducted their operations here properly, this situation would not have arisen." When Malala's identity became known, her profile rose, and she met world leaders, spoke to international news sources, and received numerous international youth peace awards. Unfortunately, this heightened profile also made her a more visible target.
Threats against Malala's life from the Taliban, who claimed to be targeting her for promoting non-religious and westernized education, were published in regional newspapers, through social media, and even slipped under her door. When Malala showed no sign of reining in her vocal activism, members of the organization decided to act. In a secret meeting of the Taliban's leaders, they unanimously agreed to kill her.
On October 9, 2012, a Taliban gunman entered the bus that Malala Yousafzai was riding home after taking exams at school. The masked gunman, after identifying who she was, shot at her, hitting both Malala and two other girls.
Malala was hit with one bullet in her left brow, but instead of penetrating the skull, it was deflected down and lodged in her shoulder. The doctors who treated her stated that the chances of such a wound from a point-blank gunshot not being fatal were astronomical. Equally unlikely was the presence of a team of renowned British medical specialists in Pakistan at the time of the shooting. Brought in to consult on Malala's condition, they were not optimistic due to swelling in her brain, and made the decisive call to move Malala to a facility in Birmingham, England.
Despite all odds, Malala recovered. She underwent physical therapy and a series of surgeries to repair skull and nerve damage, ultimately regaining her speech, movement, and, most critically, coming through the ordeal with no brain damage. Instead of the Taliban turning her into a martyr, they made her a symbol. She was alive and still able to speak, which she continues to do, upholding the rights of young women everywhere to receive proper education. In 2013, at the age of 15, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest individual ever to receive such an honor. This month, her autobiography, I Am Malala, was published.
Educators teach students all about life, but sometimes it takes a student to teach us what life is all about. Malala does more than speak her mind; she speaks for the rights of women and children. She speaks for the world. Thank you Malala! We are listening.
Until next week...