At the age of 10, Malala Yousafzai began advocating for women’s education in her native country of Pakistan, first by giving speeches then later through an anonymous blog she wrote about life under Taliban rule. These actions led the Taliban to target her – when she was just 15, she was shot in the head by the Taliban while traveling home from school. Incredibly, she recovered from this attack and shortly thereafter became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Now 17 years old, Malala visited Denver last week to speak as part of the “Denver Post Unique Lives & Experiences Lecture Series”. The Denver Post Community Foundation immediately understood how inspirational it would be for young women in the community to see Malala speak, so they invited girls from six different nonprofits to attend the event. Excelsior Youth Center was honored to be one of the selected organizations – eight of our girls attended and were truly inspired, educated and empowered by this event.
The weather was crazy that evening and we had to fight flooding, thunderstorms and intense hail to get to the Bellco Theatre to see Malala, but that didn’t detract from the girls’ enthusiasm. Jessica (16) even found the stormy weather fitting, commenting that “going through the storm to see Malala was supposed to happen that way because it makes sense that we have to be determined to see such an inspirational, determined person”.
In addition to hearing Malala’s incredible story, one girl from each nonprofit was selected as a VIP and given the opportunity to meet Malala in person and take a photo with her. Excelsior’s VIP, Hibaq (17), has dreamed for years of being a Nobel Peace Prize winner, so meeting Malala was truly an unforgettable experience for her. Normally extroverted and chatty, Hibaq was nervous and quiet in line, rehearsing what she was going to say to Malala. She decided to greet her with the traditional Muslim greeting since they share the same religion. Apparently Malala’s dad was pleased with that because he jumped in the photo with the girls! Hibaq said she felt so special to be able to meet Malala and commented, “I’ll remember this day for the rest of my life”.
All of our girls were captivated by Malala’s story and were given a new perspective on education, and on life. Stephanie (14), commented that “[Malala] made me realize that going to school was important, and thinking about finishing school is more special now because I got to see a person who risked her life for education”.
We are so grateful to the Denver Post Community Foundation for providing this amazing opportunity for our girls. They were humbled and motivated by Malala and will truly remember this experience for the rest of their lives.