It’s time for our last portrait of 2019 and the last in our human rights series. So far. I think I couldn’t have found a better portrait to end the year and give myself and those reading this something very important to be thankful for at the end of this decade.
But first, let me ask you one question: what have you learned in the past ten years and how have learned it? Have you been in school or at a collage or university? Have you searched the Internet for free tutorials or spent some money on quality online courses? Have you bought books, read them and applied the knowledge you could extract from them? Have you listened to people with authority talking about important topics and then chosen for yourself what to believe as true?
My school and university time belongs to past decades, but I have done everything else from the list above to learn something new, to acquire knowledge, to better my career chances or to make informed decisions about shaping my behavior in this society and on this planet.
I learned to read when I was about four years old because I couldn’t wait to uncover the secrets of hundreds and hundreds of books we had in our library at home. My mother had to leave high school at the age of sixteen when her father died, because she had to work in order to survive. She was obsessed with learning and reading, and fortunately she passed this obsession to me. She pushed me to become top of my class, telling me that I was the best and it would have been a sin not to live up to my intellectual gifts. I even managed to live up to her expectations for quite a few years. I hated the pressure she put on me and I hated my own ambition, but in the end I was thankful for this thirst for knowledge she instilled in me. It still drives me on. Especially because I know that hundreds of millions, maybe even billions of girls and women all over the world have no access to the basic kind of education, let alone the chance for studying and learning for a career.
That is why Malala Yousafzai is a heroine for all girls and women on this planet, and for many of the boys and men who also could profit from their female peers’ knowledge. At the age of eleven Malala started writing a blog about the life under the Pakistani Taliban in her region of the country. Girls weren’t allowed to go to school, to listen to music, to dance or to go outside their house without covering their heads. Although she wrote the blog under a pseudonym, her identity was uncovered just one year later. Her continued to fight for girls’ rights for education led to her getting shot in the head by the Taliban. She was fifteen years old.
What was I doing at the age of fifteen? Going to school, lamenting about how awful my chemistry teacher was and how I hated physics. Reading The Count of Monte Cristo for the fifteenth time. Fighting equations with two or more unknowns during math class. Writing my first short story in English. Reading Ender’s Game and developing a long lasting passion for science fiction. Nurturing my dream of becoming a writer some day. Feeling misunderstood. Reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Learning, learning a lot, and taking it for granted.
Malala got shot in the head at the age of fifteen and survived. She conquered her fear and has been fighting for girls’ and children’s right to education ever since. She received the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of seventeen. And she taught me that if I have the privilege to speak out freely, I should make use of this privilege every time I can. And if I have the ability to teach, I should make use of this ability and teach every time I can.