The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the most prestigious awards in the world. The winner is an individual or an organization that has done remarkable work in sustaining peace in any part of the world. Few life stories of Nobel Laureates are as inspiring as that of Malala Yousafzai- the winner of the Peace Prize in 2014 and the youngest ever in Nobel history. Born in 1997 in the Swat Valley in Northern Pakistan to her education activist parents, Malala had a natural love for education. She believed that education was powerful enough to change her world and studied widely at a very early age. However, political developments were to shape the direction of her life soon enough. By the time, she was 10, the Taliban had taken control of the Swat Valley and much of northern Pakistan. The Taliban was a very conservative group that carried out terror attacks to ban Western practices especially education in the region. They particularly frowned at girls attending schools and went ahead to destroy over 400 schools in the region by the end of 2008. Malala began to blog for the BBC on her experiences with the Taliban and her desire to go to school despite all odds. She became a champion for girl education and rights in Pakistan. The Taliban grew angry at her influence and targeted her in an assassination attempt on October 9, 2012, when she was shot in the head. Treated first at the Pakistani Military Hospital in Peshawar and later at the Intensive Care Unit of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, Malala miraculously recovered and remained in the United Kingdom.
Rather than retreat as a result of fear over her near-death experience at only 15 years of age, Malala grew even stronger in her conviction that children all over the world have a right to quality education. In July 2013, she spoke at the United Nations on her struggle against the Taliban and released her autobiography- I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban- to critical acclaim. She went on to establish the Malala Fund that champions education causes across the world in diverse places including Jordan, Kenya and even northern Nigeria to campaign for the release of the Chibok Girls. Malala began her studies at Oxford University in Politics, Philosophy and Economics in 2017.
Malala’s story is one of courage and fortitude for all youths of the world. She emphasises the leadership that youths can provide when empowered by their society. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the then 17year-old Malala is a powerful statement of the importance of youths in changing our world. This notion of youth as the leading force for peace is what youth-led peacebuilding organisations such as the Building Blocks for Peace Foundation have always stood for. By training over 5,000 youths in less than 3 years of its existence on peace education, mediation, and cultural advocacy, the Building Blocks for Peace Foundation has focused on developing the capacities of youths in building peace. Malala also embodies the tenets of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250 on youth peace and security. She has shown that youths can be game changers in the drive for peace and should actively co-lead and sit with other stakeholders on the decision-making table. Young people provide fresh ideas that can easily be internationalised just like Malala did by using her blog to publicise the conflict in Pakistan with a focus on the impact on girl child education. The Malala Fund which funds global girl child education projects is proof of the large-scale effects that youth initiatives can have when given the right assistance from international partners.
Malala’s story is remarkable. This is not just because of what she has been able to accomplish in 21 short years but because she denotes the qualities of today’s youth-courage despite all odds, the strength of character, and a willingness to change our world for the better. Malala has set a fine example of what we are capable of as youths. Would you join her to change your world?
Director of Partnership
Building Blocks for Peace Foundation