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    Malala Yousafzai

July 15, 2013

Malala Day 2013 Celebrates Her Courageous Fight for Access to Education

Malala YousafzaiAs a Teen Advisor for Girl Up, I was honored to attend Malala Day 2013 at the United Nations to hear Malala Yousafzai give her first public speech since being shot by the Taliban in October 2012 for daring to attend school.  Joining Malala to help celebrate her 16th birthday were hundreds of youth from around the world.   Dozens of organizations sent representatives to the daylong conference and celebration, including Girl Up, a United Nations Foundation campaign for girls’ and women’s rights. While I was blown away by Malala’s speech, there were plenty of other aspects of the day that were inspiring in their own right. In the middle of the opening ceremony, the youth delegates took a break to sing “Happy Birthday” to Malala!

Malala speaking at the United Nations – NBC News

Ashwini-AngadiThe UN Special Envoy for Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, presented the Youth Courage Awards for Education to seven courageous young people who stood up for their right to an education. Only one of the seven, 21 year old Ashwini Angadi from India, was able to attend to accept the award, and it was really inspiring to hear her acceptance speech.  Ashwini overcame a visual impairment to take a job at an IT firm which she later left to become a full time advocate for young people.

Eleven of over 500 delegates gave two minute speeches sharing their stories and what inspired them to work for universal education. One delegate (Munira Khalif, another Girl Up Teen Advisor) read a spoken word piece; another shared an essay about the role dance played in her life journey. The diversity of the speeches matched the diversity of the delegates from dozens of countries.

After the opening ceremony, the delegates attended breakout sessions about topics as varied as global citizenship and access to education. At a Fair where a variety of education and empowerment organizations talked about their work, one of the most interesting booths was hosted by Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, the wildly popular, long-running PBS children’s TV show. They explained how the versions of the show that air abroad differ from the one shown in the U.S. by reflecting certain realities of life in different regions of the world.  Two great examples are that in malaria-prone areas of the world, Sesame Street puppets, like the kids watching the show, sleep under bed nets; in areas where HIV is prevalent, an HIV-positive character joins the puppet cast.

At the closing ceremony, Gordon Brown, former UK prime minister, gave an incredible speech about the significance of efforts by young people in gaining access to education for all. He reminded us of how vitally important our work is, and how we in the international community cannot fail children by denying them a chance to learn. It was a great reminder of our mission, and that we still have much work to do before achieving our goals.

The courageous Malala, in whose honor we gathered, is the epitome of grace and strength. We all will benefit from the lessons she teaches us in years to come on this symbolic day. I will forever cherish my memories of Malala Day 2013 and hope that others, especially young people, get the chance to hear her speak in the future.