OSLO–When Malala Yousafzay receives the Nobel Peace Prize in December, the 17-year-old Pakistani girl will be the youngest person ever to receive that high honor or, in fact, a Nobel Prize of any kind.
Malala, as she become widely known throughout the world, was selected on October 10 by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, along with Kailash Satyarthi of India, for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.
Malala has another, less known distinction. She is believed to be the first Nobel Peace Prize awardee who uses a cochlear implant. Why she needs it is part of what the Nobel Committee described as “her heroic struggle…under the most dangerous circumstances” to “become a leading spokesperson for girls’ rights to education.”
A CAUSE WORTH DYING FOR
Malala’s remarkable story is now well known. Born July 12, 1997, in Mingora, Pakistan, she was an advocate for girls’ education by the age of 11. This took great courage, since in the Swat Valley where she lived, the powerful Taliban had begun attacking girls’ schools because they believe that education should be reserved for boys.
In 2008, she gave a public speech in the city of Peshawar entitled “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?” She also began blogging for the BBC about living under the Taliban’s threats to deny her an education. Soon afterwards the group issued a death threat against her.
This was no idle threat. On October 9, 2012, while Malala was riding a bus home from school, a man with a gun boarded the bus and found her. He fired at her from point blank range, hitting her in the left side of the head.
The shooting left Malala critically injured, but, miraculously, she survived, and without suffering major brain damage. She was first taken to a Pakistani military hospital in Peshawar, where part of her skull was removed to treat her swelling brain.
She was then flown to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, where she underwent several operations. The surgeries included repairing a damaged facial nerve that had left her with paralysis on the left side of her face. She also received a cochlear implant because of the damage that the bullet had done to the hearing in her left ear.
In March 2013, less than six months after being nearly killed, she began attending school again in Birmingham. She also returned to her advocacy efforts, this time buoyed by supporters from around the world.
She celebrated her 16th birthday in July 2013 by speaking at the United Nations. Her autobiography, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, was published last October. That same month the European Parliament awarded her the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
In a press interview in Birmingham, Malala said of being selected for the Nobel Prize, “I believe the committee didn’t just give this award to me. It is for all the children whose voices are not being heard around the world.
“Through my story I want to tell children to speak for themselves, not to wait for someone else. I stand up with all the children and this award is especially for them. It will give them courage.”
She and Kailash Satyarthi, who for decades has helped lead the fight to protect the rights of children around the world and to end exploitive child labor, will officially receive their awards, including about $1.25 million, in Stockholm in December.