Feature Friday: Malala Day at the United Nations

The Pen is Mightier than the Sword
By Jenna Vaccaro, Guest Blogger

This is the compassion that I have learnt from Muhammad-the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha. This is the legacy of change that I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. This is the philosophy of non-violence that I have learnt from Gandhi Jee, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learnt from my mother and father. This is what my soul is telling me, be peaceful and love everyone. — Malala Yousafzai

malala1July 12, 2013 will go down in history as the first youth takeover of the United Nations. Over 500 young people between the ages of 13 and 24 from all over the globe were invited to the UN General Assembly to share, learn, and network on the global education crisis in an event called Malala Day, in honor of Malala Yousafzai. Over 56 million children in the world have never had access to education due to systemic cultural difficulties and a lack of resources. Even more children never make it passed primary school, and of those that do, many barely learn basic reading and math skills.  The numbers are so high and so widespread that we may not even know the true extent to which these problems reach.

As a UN Youth Representative for the WNBA and the daughter of a teacher, these problems are extremely close to my own heart. I have been lucky enough to have a supportive network with ample resources encouraging me to further my own education. Unfortunately the number of children who lack that same support is staggering.  Malala is one such case that deserves the world’s attention. In 2012, Malala was a bright young fifteen year old Pakistani girl with the world laid out in front of her. She believed in her right to education, and espoused those values on her personal blog. She identified the injustices against her gender, and shamed those who believe that women belong in the home rather than in the public sphere. One day on her way to school, male terrorists boarded her bus. They said, “Who is Malala?” and said that they would kill everyone aboard until they found her. These men shot Malala in the head along with two of her friends, because she dared to speak up on behalf of girls seeking an education. These men tried to silence her voice with force and violence.

They were not successful. Like a true-life superhero, Malala miraculously survived the attack and recovered after being moved to the United Kingdom. While some might have been silenced after such a despicable outbreak of violence, Malala has shown courage, bravery, and eloquence beyond her years. She came to the UN for this event- her first public appearance since the attack- and has strengthened her position on universal education for all. She credits her faith, parental support, and moral conviction for her recovery and bravery.

malala2

For the full video of Malala’s speech, click here.

There was hardly a dry eye in the room as Malala spoke in front of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, her parents, and her peers. She inspired us all to take a stand for education both in our personal lives and in the global sphere for others. As we learned throughout the day at subsequent information fairs and panels, universal education has the potential to fix other problems such as poverty, health, and food shortages. With education those in developing countries could help fix the high mortality rates of pregnant females in their communities, learn sustainable agrarian techniques to feed the hungry, and practice leadership to address local problems within their societies. It all starts with education. It is Malala’s goal to have every child in school by 2015. She presented a petition with millions of signatures to the UN hoping to achieve that goal. Click here to sign Malala’s petition, sponsored by A World at School.

I couldn’t have been happier to meet with young people from around the world who shared my interests in global education. To hear their own stories about educational problems in their home countries was nothing short of heartbreaking. At the information fair I learned of campaigns from the Girl Scouts to help empower girls abroad, met with representatives from UNESCO to learn about their educational initiatives, and talked to Women Thrive Worldwide about their awareness campaigns on women and education. Following the information fair we could choose different panels to attend. I participated in a grass-roots organizing workshop, in which we were given a topic and as a team worked together to develop a campaign around it, guided by the United Nations Girls Education Initiative. Following this workshop I participated in an online organizing event sponsored by A World at School and UNICEF. Different presenters, including Girl Rising and President Obama’s 2012 Social Media Director, talked about the importance of online communication and the best practices for building an audience for awareness campaigns.

Malala Day was one of the best days of my short professional career, as I got the chance to learn and grow with people from all over the world. I am so grateful for the opportunity to participate and will hold Malala’s virtues in my heart forever. Her courage and bravery in the face of systemic cultural violence is an inspiration to all.

jennaVJenna Vaccaro is a Graduate Assistant at Pace University’s publishing program. She loves the intersection of media and technology and hopes to build a career combining the two fields. Jenna previously worked at the Smithsonian Museum of Asian Art and volunteers her time at NGOs like the WNBA and Girls Educational Mentoring Services (GEMS.) She loves science-fiction and horror novels. Please find her on Linked In for more information.

Comments are closed