Malala Yousafzai addressing the United Nations Youth Assembly on her 16th birthday.
(INSIDER IMAGES/Stuart Ramson for UN Foundation)
Passionate. Powerful. Inspiring.
These were the words that came to mind when I first heard about Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai. Her only crime was advocating for the right of girls to receive an education. Since healed, Malala is more devoted to her cause than ever.
On July 12, her 16th birthday, the United Nations honored Malala for her bravery. Malala and 500 youth delegates (the enthusiastic party guests) - including me! - from 85 countries celebrated Malala’s sweet 16 by advocating for universal education at the UN’s headquarters in NY.
The day kicked off with a speech by UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown. He reminded us that around the world 57 million children are denied the right to education, and that this reality must change. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon followed suit, telling how UNESCO, UNICEF, and other international partners provided his childhood home of war-torn Vietnam with books and school supplies.
I was so excited to hear from Malala, the bravest girl I know. She took the podium dressed in a pink traditional Pakistani shalwar kameez, matching dupatta (head scarf), and shawl of her idol, the late Benazir Bhutto. She began with Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem (in the name of God, the most beneficent, the most merciful). I related to her Islamic pride.
Malala’s humbleness touched my heart. She declared, “Malala Day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy, and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights.” A global symbol of hope for millions of girls around the world, Malala emphasized, “I speak not for myself, but so those without a voice can be heard.”
My eyes welled with tears for the girl who has sacrificed so much at a young age and still remains devoted to her cause. The battle for worldwide education has only begun, and with Malala at the forefront, I know that we can achieve education for all.
Janam Din Mubarak Ho, Malala! (Happy Birthday!)
Watch Malala's speech below.