#MalalaDay Throwback Thursday: We held on to her every word
Chernor Bah is Campaign Co-ordinator for Youth Engagement at A World at School. Here he recalls his own experience of Malala Day – July 12, 2013, when Malala Yousafzai addressed a youth takeover of the United Nations.
You could hear a pin drop in the room. Anticipation. Even anxiety. A 16-year-old youth leader was walking to the podium.
Ban Ki-moon had just welcomed her to the United Nations. The UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, had just made a powerful speech.
But 500-plus youth from over 100 countries had gathered in this historic auditorium to hear this incredible – yes, improbable – icon and leader speak. It was the first United Nations youth takeover.
Malala Yousafzai was about to speak just a few months after she defied death – having survived a brutal Taliban shot in her head for simply wanting to go to school. Her story had struck a chord and A World At School was leading the movement to mobilise young people in solidarity with Malala to support the cause for which she had been attacked.
As chairman of the occasion, I sat on the dais next to the dignitaries and I had the privilege of observing the room as Malala began to speak.
For the first five minutes or so, the room – and apparently the rest of the world – was transfixed. There was no applause. We were holding on to her every word. No one was quite sure what to expect. After all, it was the first time we were seeing Malala speak after her life-threatening attack.
She spoke eloquently, calmly, and conveyed the spirit of the movement that had been brewing since she was shot. It's not only Malala Day, she bellowed in that unmistakable voice of hers, it's the day of every girl who dreams of going to school. The room erupted.
The young people's passions stirred – she gave words to and embodied a global aspiration: the desire of every boy and girl to get an education. It was one of those moments that one will never forget.
But what is even more unforgettable is the incredible movement of young people mobilised for education that that day inspired. Since that day, everywhere I go, in communities all around the world, youth come up to me talking about the event and how much it inspired them to stand up and do something for the right to education. Even though most weren’t physically there they saw it broadcast on TV or online and feel so connected to the movement that it barely makes a difference.
Many of our Global Youth Ambassadors came from those who were there or joined the program because of Malala’s rallying cry. They heard her words and have taken up the call to advocate for education in their communities. We have partnered with Plan International and the Youth Advocacy Group to develop a youth toolkit to equip this growing movement.
Millions more young people on social media who witnessed the beginning of this movement yelled so loud that when the end of the year came around, Malala Day was featured in nearly every “Top Moments of 2013” list – from Google to Twitter and beyond. The youth voices online ensured that education keeps trending and can no longer be ignored.
Just last month on the Day of the African Child, A World At School partnered with the African Union and some of our campaign allies including Plan International to organise the first youth takeover of the African Union as young people around that continent asked their leaders to do more to guarantee education for all.
Even more remarkably, we coordinated more than 135 youth takeovers and other solidarity events around the world on the day – from Rio de Janeiro to Freetown – with youth leaders standing up for education. All of these actions continue to build a groundswell of support for even more action in the coming month – the 500-Day Countdown to the end of the Millennium Development Goals.
When the Taliban attacked Malala, they sought to silence her and kill her dream of going to school. Instead their callous attack emboldened a fearless young advocate and inspired Malala Day.
That in turn has inspired this movement that is going full speed to guarantee what the Taliban most feared: a child with a book. Indeed, as Malala so poignantly said, “one child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.”