#MalalaDay Throwback Thursday: How she changed our lives

Today we look back at a remarkable day a year ago – the day when schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai grabbed the attention of the world.

Malala, who had been shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in Pakistan for daring to speak out on girls’ education, took to the stage on July 12, 2013 at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

She was watched by 500 youth advocates, gathered by A World at School and the UN from more than 100 organisations for a Youth Takeover of the UN. Many of them have since become Global Youth Ambassadors for A World at School.

On what was called Malala Day – her 16th birthday – Malala uttered the phrase that will stay long in the memories of those who were there or watching her televised address around the world:

“One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.”

It was a stirring speech in which Malala called for the rights of girls to have an education to be recognised in every country.

And it helped give extra impetus to the worldwide push to get every girl and boy of primary age into school and learning by the end of 2015 – as promised in the Millennium Development Goals of 2000.

That aim is the driving force behind the 500-Day Countdown Campaign launched by A World at School at the Countdown Summit in Washington, DC, in April. Throughout the campaign we will highlight important areas representing the key barriers to education, including children affected by conflict, early forced marriage, discrimination against girls, child labour and teachers and learning.

To mark the first anniversary of Malala Day, we asked some of those youth advocates who were there for the speech to tell us about their memories of that day and how it has driven their education advocacy work in the past 12 months. Here are their stories.

Youth delegates attend the Malala Day event at the UN


A World At School Global Youth Ambassador from New York City

Malala Day was a surreal experience for me. I have always admired Malala but never realised just how much she would move me.

The poise, maturity and passion that Malala had when speaking gave me goosebumps. I sat watching her, motionless by the power that this 16-year-old had. What was even more touching and the true “ah hah” moment for me was watching her parents’ reactions.

I was sitting directly behind them and as Malala spoke, her parents were filled with pride and her mother’s eyes were watery. It was such a relateable experience. Malala was someone’s daughter. It made me think of my parents and everyone else who have helped me become the woman I am today.

Unfortunately, there are many children in the world who don’t have this support system and no one to encourage them to strive for more. I knew at that moment that I had to take action, in any way that I could. I had to use the skills I was blessed with to help others and contribute to common goals and that is the reason that I am now a Global Youth Ambassador.

Girls attend a Malala Day event held in Pakistan


From Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (Centre of Education and Consciousness) in Islamabad, Pakistan

I was sitting at home playing with my six-month-old when I saw the news on television. It was Malala Yousafzai, speaking at the United Nations with 500 youth from across the globe on her 16th birthday. As I watched her speak, I remembered the day when the whole world was shocked and overwhelmed with distress at an innocent girl being shot for standing up for girls’ education.

We, the Right to Education Team at Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), had already initiated the One Million Signature (OMS) campaign for Right to Education in Pakistan, where more than five million children still remain out of school.

Not only did we raise our voice, we joined hands with the international community – especially Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education. He endorsed the OMS campaign when he first visited Pakistan and ensured 100% support to civil society for education. Mr Brown handed the one million signatures to the then president in November 2012 and the first act for right to education was passed the following month.

Since I left work due to having a child, I was somewhat out  of touch with the global scenario. Malala’s speech reminded me of my duty to my country and that I had to come back to work since a threat to Malala’s life is a threat to every child in Pakistan who is eager to get education.

To secure the future of the children of Pakistan, even that of my very own child, I had to stand up again for Right to Education for ALL.  I am now back at ITA, leading the right to education movement and the Global Youth Initiative by A World At School to spearhead the Global Youth Ambassadors programme in Pakistan.

Malala Day was recognised around the world, including Burundi


A World at School Global Youth Ambassador from Somalia

Taking part in Malala Day as a youth delegate for Girl Up and performing a spoken word piece at the General Assembly was a reinvigorating and momentous experience.

With 500 youth delegates present at the United Nation’s headquarters, Malala Day attested to the idea that the youth of today are NOT the leaders of tomorrow. Instead, young people are leading today to ensure the goodwill and peace of tomorrow.

After returning from Malala Day, I launched Lighting the Way’s first annual benefit dinner. Lighting the Way is a non-profit campaign that I have founded to mobilise East African diaspora youth both domestically and internationally to empower East African girls through education. We raised $30,000 for education programmes in the Horn of Africa. 

As a teen ambassador for the Girl Up campaign, I lobbied congress at Capitol Hill to support the Girls Count Act of 201 – a bill that works to ensure girls around the world are registered at birth and are visible members of society. This means girls will be better protected from obstacles that prevent their attendance at school, including human trafficking and child marriage.

I am motivated by my grandfather’s courage to send his daughter, my mother, to school in an area of the world where that is not always the case. I stand today as proof of the power of educating a girl and I work as a catalyst of change to pass on this gift of education.

The UN audience listens to Malala’s speech


Member of Global Education First Initative’s Youth Advocacy Group, from United Kingdom

Malala Day was an incredible experience and reminded me just how invested my generation is in finding solutions to the global challenges we face.

Inspiring, moving and powerful, Malala’s words resonated with everybody in the room. She said, loud and clear, that terrorists would never stop her getting an education and succeeding in life. She spoke for the 66 million girls whose right to education is denied, often simply because of their gender.

Crafting the youth resolution that was ratified at Malala Day was an amazing feat requiring the passionate engagement of hundreds of young people from 45 countries – working together, they contributed their experiences, outlined their challenges and provided practical solutions on how to get every child in school no matter who or where they are.

Through online consultations and local workshops, young people from all over the world and from the most marginalised communities prioritised quality, equity and inclusivity, and transparency and accountability. On Malala Day, 500 of them stood together and demanded governments act to remedy this injustice and the resolution has served as an invaluable advocacy tool for so many since.

But a year on from Malala Day, despite all the advocacy we’ve done and the efforts we’ve made, progress at the global level is still negligible to non-existent. There are 58 million children out of school, one million more than on Malala Day. If governments don’t step up and make their promises a reality, how can young people have faith in them? Now is the time for the action. Malala’s words are as pertinent as ever.


Hong Kong Committee for UNICEF/ UNICEF Young Envoys Club

After returning home from Malala Day, I formed a task force among the members of the UNICEF Young Envoys Club to join forces of passionate advocates in improving Chinese education for ethnic minority children in Hong Kong.

One year on, our government announced new plans to tailor Chinese curriculum for ethnic minority children. But while the government has spoken, we can only wait and see if it will match their words with their deeds. 

One year ago, I stood before an assembly of youth advocates and said: “I believe our education should fit not only for most but for all.”

I am prepared to match my words with my deeds, and this is why my team and I will continue to champion for our ethnic minority’s right to education and monitor the government’s work on it. We know full well that this language barrier shields them from preparing for a working life and we cannot afford to spoil one more child’s future.


A World at School Global Youth Ambassador from New York and member of American Pakistan Foundation

I had the privilege of experiencing Malala’s clear call to action as a result of a donation made by the American Pakistan Foundation.

My trip reinvigorated my dedication to helping provide others with opportunity. With the foundation I work to help create awareness of socioeconomic development work being done in Pakistan by phenomenal leaders working to serve some of the most underprivileged people in the world under some of the most difficult circumstances.

As a Global Youth Ambassador, I attended the Education Countdown Summit in Washington, DC, where I was able to meet Ban Ki-moon, the Browns, leaders of NGOs and YAG members who have shown their dedication to getting children into school.  I also attended the launch of the Advocacy for Youth Toolkit at the United Nations in New York – an invaluable tool that will help to empower and organise youth movement leaders and participants around the world.

Malala Day and all the inspired events have been pivotal moments that show potential for a new chapter for the world, one that is driven by helping to provide others with opportunity via socioeconomic development.  

It is essential that individuals, their governments, NGOs, corporations and all other interests focus their efforts on providing health care, education and economic opportunity to today’s youth under 25 who are half of the world’s population and the global future. Our world literally depends on it.


A World at School Global Youth Ambassador from Kenya

Last July was one of the memorable months of my life. I’ve been a young advocate for Leonard Cheshire Disability International LCD from 2011. I have enjoyed my work in the advocacy for disability rights as well as the growth and personal productivity.

I was nominated by LCD to attend the Malala Day event in New York City. Two days before my journey we had been asked to write a speech on inclusive education and give it a catchy title. Tthe best 10 would be selected and read during Malala Day at the UN Youth Takeover. Mine was chosen and the title was “End of segregation and neglecting era”.

We assembled at the UN headquarters very early to secure the front seats. The moment arrived when Malala – a very young, bold, resilient, courageous girl – stepped in the building. Applause, shouts, ululations were the language of the moment.

She stood to address the whole world. My eyes fixed on her, my mouth zipped, my mind open to digest her speech. Then the moment she narrated her story, shot by the Taliban, survived and still pressing for girls’ education.

It hit me so hard that I had to start afresh in my campaigns. I told myself it was time to do things differently, starting with an exclusive interview with BBC Swahili on inclusive education.

The next day, I started my journey back to Kenya. I handed over the youth resolution to my director, then I started my volunteer work teaching at a children’s home for three months. I became more active in writing on issues pertaining to education and getting more active in attending events that gave me more reasons to continue my campaigns.

It is not yet over. As a Global Youth Ambassador for A World At School, I am learning a lot and at the same time sharing this knowledge. Mainstream education is the key to a nation’s development, accessibility is the prerequisite to equitable education. Malala, I cannot repay you.