It’s been almost two years since the Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai, and her resolve to bring education to every child is stronger than ever before.
Monday marks Malala Day, an awareness event dedicated to the 17-year-old’s fight to get every young person into the classroom. As we stand together with Yousafzai, we are also honoring the accomplishments that have made her the ideal leader to pave the way to universal education.
When she defied the Taliban and told the world about it.
Before Malala Yousafzai became a household name, she was just like any other young girl -- she loved school, Justin Bieber and Harry Potter, according to CNN. But when the Taliban outlawed education for girls in her home of Swat Valley, Pakistan, she unhesitatingly went from ordinary student to intractable advocate overnight. Despite direct death threats, Yousafzai -- who was just 11 years old at the time -- continued attending classes and anonymously blogged about her experiences for the BBC.
"I did not want to be silent because I had to live in that situation forever," she told CNN. "And it was a better idea, because otherwise they were going to kill us -- so it was a better idea to speak and then be killed."
When she refused to exact revenge.
On Oct. 9, 2012, a Taliban member nearly took Yousafzai’s life when he shot her in the head while she was riding home from school because she had come to represent everything progressive that the militant group rejects.
The defiant activist underwent numerous surgeries in the U.K., which included having her skull reconstructed. But throughout her ordeal, she refused to harbor ill will toward the terrorist group, and has advocated instead for a peaceful response on a number of occasions.
"If you hit a Talib, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib," Yousafzai told Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" last October, rendering the outspoken host speechless. "You must not treat others with cruelty … You must fight others through peace and through dialogue and through education."
When she took the U.N. by storm.
In her characteristically unflappable voice, Yousafzai rallied the U.N. last year on the inaugural Malala Day when she outlined her every expectation for the 57 million children who are out of school around the world. "One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first," she said during her speech on her 16th birthday.
The U.N. paid heed to her worlds when it unveiled on that same day the Global Education First Initiative, a project that aims to bring quality and inclusive education to all, over the next five years.
When she reminded the world that Islam doesn't support violence.
Yousafzai is a devout Muslim and she wants to make sure that terrorists don’t get away with misappropriating the religion to justify their violent missions.
"They think that God is a tiny, little conservative being who would send girls to the hell just because of going to school," she said. "The terrorists are misusing the name of Islam and Pashtun society for their own personal benefits."
And after terror group Boko Haram kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria in April, Yousafzai again publicly reminded the world that Islam does not condone such depraved acts.
"I think they haven’t studied Islam yet, they haven’t studied Quran yet, and they should go and they should learn Islam," she told CNN in May. "I think that they should think of these girls as their own sisters. How can one imprison his own sisters and treat them in such a bad way?"
When she spoke up to President Obama.
Yousafzai is a staunch education advocate, but that’s not the only cause for which she’s going to fight tooth and nail.
The impassioned teen met with Obama last October on the same day he signed a proclamation declaring Oct. 13 as the International Day of the Girl. The pair spent a considerable amount of time discussing education and girls’ rights, but Yousafzai also unabashedly spoke out about her opposition to drones.
"I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism," she said in a statement, according to the Associated Press. "Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact."
When she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 2013, the esteemed group of a record 259 nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize boasted such shakers as the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and Chelsea Manning, the U.S. Army private who has admitted to sending hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the website WikiLeaks. Three members of the Norwegian parliament believed that, at 15, Yousafzai also deserved a nomination for "her courageous commitment to the right of girls to education," parliamentarian Freddy de Ruiter wrote on the Labor party website, according to NBC. "A commitment that seemed so threatening to the extremists that they chose to try and kill her."
When she accepted the "loss" with grace.
When the news hit that Yousafzai didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize, the Taliban was quick to express its relief. "She did nothing big so it's good that she didn't get it," spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told the Agence France-Presse last October. "This award should be given to the real Muslims who are struggling for Islam." But the resilient teenager remained insouciant to her enemy’s harsh words and to not being named the youngest Nobel Peace Prize in history.
"I think I have won the Nobel Peace Prize," she said at an NPR event last October. "Because when I look at the nomination and the support of people -- if you just remove the jury -- I have won it. And I'm happy for that."
When she put her money where her mouth is.
Just a month after she was shot, Yousafzai and her supporters began planting the seeds for the Malala Fund, a nonprofit that is working to fulfill the activist’s dream of bringing education to every boy and girl across the globe.
She has already made some considerable headway. Together with Gordon Brown and education NGO A World at School, Yousafzai pledged to raise $500 million to provide schooling for 300,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Time reported. The education crisis is particularly heartbreaking for these kids as their home was once the envy of the region. Before the civil war, primary school enrollment and literacy rates were over 90 percent. Three years later, 2.8 million Syrian children are out of school, according to UNICEF.
When she gave Syrian refugee children a reassuring hand.
In a show of solidarity, Yousafzai helped hundreds of Syrian refugees cross from their war-torn country into Jordan in February, after leaving their homes behind and enduring an arduous trek through the desert.
She was joined by her father and a team from her eponymous organization, the Malala Fund, which has partnered with grassroots Jordanian and Syrian organizations and NGOs working to bring every school-aged Syrian refugee back in the classroom, according to the nonprofit’s blog.
When she urged the president of Nigeria to bring the kidnapped schoolgirls back safely.
It’s been three months since more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped and President Goodluck Jonathan is feeling the heat to get them home safely, particularly from Yousafzai. The tireless teen met with Jonathan and the families this past weekend, and made quite an impression on the Nigerian leader, according to Reuters.
And she’s going to hold him to his vow.
"I will from now be counting days and will be looking," Yousafzai said. "I can't stop this campaign until I see these girls return back to their families and continue their education."