This summer, we hosted a team of interns at the LitWorld headquarters in New York City. They come from colleges and universities around the country, and they spend the summer doing grassroots education rights work on the ground while at the same time connecting with our hubs for innovation around the world.
Sophie Mortner, one of our interns, had the opportunity to attend Malala Day at the United Nations, an experience that impacted her greatly. I share her thoughts here and then five messages from us together on the power of Malala's words to inspire and motivate us all on these, the first days of back-to-school. Yet around the world, at least 61 million children are out of school, and right here in the U.S. many of our poorest children do not have equitable access to a quality education or the resources that would help them create the dreams they really want. Today, let's act on the messages Malala has sent us.
With my final year of college one week away, I have been reflecting on Malala Yousafzai's speech at the United Nations on July 12th. Although the back-to-school season is often painted as a farewell to the freedom of summer vacation, returning to school is a celebration of our greatest freedom: the fundamental human right to literacy and an education.
I spent the summer leading a LitCamp in Harlem, creating a community and culture of reading, writing and storytelling with the children of Broadway Housing Communities. While listening to Malala, I thought about our LitCampers' delight and desire to fill their days discovering new worlds through books. I marveled at how this is all echoed in Malala's passion to pursue her future through education.
Listening to her speak was humbling. Though her story is almost incomprehensible to most American students, her speech built a connection between us all - college students, and young children attending school in Harlem and all parts of the country - and serves to remind us that our voices matter to this issue of the human right to education.
My experiences this summer have challenged me anew to treat my college years as a privilege and a joy. Hearing Malala speak, and working side by side with children who have not had abundant access to books and resources, and who care very much about their learning, taught me a great deal about the importance of advocating for others to gain access to a quality education.
Here are five ways that Pam and I believe Malala's message can be used every day:
1. Honor literacy as a powerful tool for strength and change.
Malala's story started simply. She was a young girl who loved to learn. Over time, her passion for learning empowered her to become one of the strongest voices against injustice and persecution in education. She said, "Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons." Let us work together right now to ensure that all children will have education as the most powerful tool one can acquire, and make sure they have access to the books, pens and technology that will "arm" them for a lifetime of opportunity.
2. Value the power of compassion.
Though the Pakistani Taliban attempted to assassinate Malala, she does not express hate and vengeance. Instead she has focused on becoming strong and resilient and helping others do the same. She said, "I'm not against anyone... I'm here to speak about the right of education for every child." Let us work together as a youth movement to help all children define what they are "for," not what they are "against." In this way, we can make change in the world.
3. Celebrate the child's own stories.
"We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced," she said. We must remind our children that their words have the power to create change, really and truly. Their stories do matter, all stories do. Malala emphasizes that she is just a young girl, and it is in that simplicity that her story has its greatest power. Even the quietest child can find ways to share stories, whether they be in writing or in speaking.
4. Foster the power of resilience.
When Malala awoke from months in a coma, she called it her "new life." She and her message are both stronger than they were before. She shows us that telling our story in any way that we can - a journal, a speech or a letter to an editor - allows us to grow from our most difficult experiences. She has come back with more purpose and more drive, and more people are listening. Life is often very hard. There are challenges along the way. By standing up for each other, by eliminating bullying from school, by championing each other's ideas, we can all become stronger and pursue our dreams.
5. Join the movement for education rights.
Malala said: let us "...not forget that millions of children are out of their schools." So let us never forget: we are the lucky ones who get to buy our backpacks, get our new pens, fire up our computers, and get ready to learn each and every day. This is all a huge blessing. But there are staggering numbers of children, especially girls, who are currently not in school.
Become an education rights advocate for children and young adults. Use social media to share Malala's story with your friends and family who may be unfamiliar with the global education crisis. Write letters to newspapers and politicians. Get involved with organizations like LitWorld that are leading the youth movement for education rights and find wonderful ways to do this work on the ground, every day, all around the world.
Let's not have Malala Day just once a year. Really, every day is and should be Malala Day, when all children get to feel the power of the pen, the book, the tablet, and best of all, his or her own valuable story, written and shared for all the world to benefit.