This past week at the United Nations General Assembly, Malala Yousafzai met with key world leaders — including President Emmanuel Macron of France — to discuss increased investment in education, with a focus on opportunities for girls. Malala stepped onto the world stage in 2012 after she was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban for defying the group, and speaking out about education under its government. That encounter did not stop her from continuing her mission to further education for girls.
After her recovery and her relocation to the United Kingdom from Pakistan, Malala was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. She remains the youngest recipient of the award to this day. She also started The Malala Fund, which aims to create a "world where every girl can learn and lead without fear."
She last spoke with All Things Considered host Michel Martin in 2013 after meeting with then-President Obama. Malala says a lot has changed since then, but that her mission remains the same. On a recent trip around the world, Malala spoke with young women, some of whom had escaped from terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram, about education. She called it her "Girl Power Trip."
Malala joined Martin to share stories from her trip and talk about her excitement as she takes her next steps and heads to the University of Oxford in England where she will study philosophy, politics and economics.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
On visiting the Lancaster, Penn., refugee community as part of her Girl Power Trip
I was really inspired by the way they welcomed refugees and they were like brothers and sisters living together no matter what their background, no matter what their religion was. And that gives such a good message to the world that this is the America, the real America, that ideal America the world thinks of — its values, the way it welcomes people and it's about freedom, it's about respect towards other people no matter where you are from. I met amazing young refugees and also people who are doing incredible work there.
On the different countries she visited
I went to Iraq and I went to the Kurdistan region and I met Syrian refugees. I met Yazidi displaced girls. I met girls who were from Iraq, so Iraqi refugees as well and Christian refugees. So I met refugees from different places and how Kurdistan region had welcomed those people and were helping them, but there are still so many barriers. There's lack of funding in terms of helping refugees and especially their education. They need response from the international community to increase their support for girls education.
On the stories she heard from the women she met on her trip
I went to Iraq's Kurdistan region [and] I met this young Yazidi girl. Her name is Najla and she told me her story that when she was 14-years-old she was forced to get married. So on her wedding day, in her wedding dress, she took off her high heels and then ran away and then later on ISIS, the extremists, they came to her region and she had to flee again. While she was fleeing she was attacked in her arm, but she still resisted. She went on and now she's even, though she has not been able to go back to her home, she's in this shelter with no electricity, no facilities. She has to walk two miles a day, but she's still continuing her education and I called her into the U.N. as well to speak at the U.N. platform and meet these leaders and talk to them directly and tell her story that these are the girls who are refugees.
On the education available to young refugees who want to continue learning
I'm really disappointed by the response that we see towards refugees, but these people do not become refugees by choice. It is the situation. It is the circumstances that force them. They have to save their lives. No one can live with those extremists. Their life is at risk, so we have to welcome them. We have to support them and then invest in these girls education because these girls know that if they want, if one day they go back home and they want to have a life, they want to achieve their dreams, then they must have an education.
NPR's Gemma Watters produced the audio version of this story. NPR's Wynne Davis adapted it for web.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And now our visit with the youngest winner ever of the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousafzai. She was just 11 years old when she began blogging and talking about her life in Pakistan under the rule of the Taliban in the Swat Valley. She was just 15 when a Taliban gunman tried to silence her by shooting her in the head. She survived that attack. And now, at 20, she has become a global voice for girls' education. Malala recently returned from a world trip that took her to the Middle East, Latin America, Africa and North America. While there, she met with young women - some of whom had escaped radical groups like ISIS and Boko Haram - to encourage them in their fight for education. She called it her girl-power trip.
And this past week, she attended the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where she spoke with political leaders about the need to prioritize spending on education around the world. We went to New York City to speak with Malala, and I started our conversation by asking her why she chose to start her girl-power trip in Lancaster, Pa.
MALALA YOUSAFZAI: I was really inspired by the way they welcomed refugees. And they were like brothers and sisters living together, no matter their background, no matter what their religion was. And that gave such a good message to the world that this is the America, the real America, that real - that ideal America that the world thinks of - its values, the way it welcomes people. And it's about freedoms. It's about respect towards other people, no matter where you are from.
And then I went to Iraq, and I met - went to the Kurdistan region. And I met Syrian refugees. I met Yazidi displaced girls. I met girls who are from Iraq, so Iraqi refugees as well and Christian refugees. So I met refugees from different places and how the region had welcomed those people and were helping them. But there are still so many barriers. There's lack of funding in terms of helping refugees in especially their education. They need a response from the international community to increase their support for girls' education.
MARTIN: You met so many people, and I'm sure it's all a blur, but is there any particular person who stands out to you that you can tell us about?
YOUSAFZAI: So when I went to Iraq, Kurdistan region, I met this young Yazidi girl. Her name is Nigella (ph). And she told me her story that when she was 14 years old, she was forced to get married. So on her wedding day, in her wedding dress, she took off her high heels and she ran away. And then later on, ISIS, the extremists, they came to her region and she had to flee again. And while she was fleeing, she was attacked in her arm. But she still resisted. She went on. And now, she's - even - that she has not been able to go back to her home. And she's in this shelter with no electricity, no facilities. She has to walk two miles a day. But she is still continuing her education.
And I call her to the U.N. as well to speak at the at the U.N. platform and meet these leaders and talk with them directly, tell her story that these are the girls who are refugees. I'm really disappointed by the response that we see towards refugees. But these people do not become refugees by choice. It is the situation, it is the circumstances that forced them. They have to save their lives. So we have to welcome them. We have to support them and then invest in these girls' education.
MARTIN: I'm wondering if this time of year has special meaning to you? Because as I recall, like, in September, when you were 11, is when you gave your first public speech about education. And I'm remembering that in October, when you were 15, was when you were attacked. And I wonder, do you still think of that time?
YOUSAFZAI: So, yes, like, whenever October comes, over the last five years, I do think about the attack. But I just - it just reminds me that something happened this day on the 9 of October. And - but I also remember that how things have changed since then. And I remember - still remember when I was in the hospital and I was recovering and I had to make the decision what I wanted to do next. And I realized that the extremists, they had tried their best to silence me but they still failed.
So now it was time to use my voice and take benefit of it, advantage of it, for the rest of the girls and just looking back of how much I have achieved so far. I think I'm really happy. And I want to do more because there are so many Malalas out there. We have to go. We have to support them. We have to give them a platform. We have to give them opportunity. Then they are the change makers. They can bring change.
MARTIN: Do you still think you would like to go into politics? At one point, I remember, I mean, you had even talked about being prime minister of your home country, of Pakistan. Is that still a dream of yours, a desire?
YOUSAFZAI: I was 11 when I said that I wanted to be the prime minister of Pakistan. And it was because of what was happening in...
MARTIN: Well, a lot of 11-year-olds want to be a firefighter or a veterinarian, so it's not, you know...
YOUSAFZAI: Yeah, but I was really disappointed with what was happening. And looking at the response of politicians, like, why weren't they doing anything? Girls' education was banned. There was extremism going on. More than 400 schools were destroyed, and nothing was happening. So I said, one day, I'll become prime minister and I'll fix everything. But since I have been meeting all these politicians and prime ministers, I'm quite disappointed. So not thinking about going into politics yet. And I'm not sure. But I want to finish my university education and then think.
MARTIN: I do want to say congratulations upon your admittance to Oxford and that you will be starting very soon.
YOUSAFZAI: Thank you.
MARTIN: Do you know what you plan to study?
YOUSAFZAI: I have decided to do PP, which is philosophy politics and economics. And it is an interesting subject.
MARTIN: But you're still doing the politics.
YOUSAFZAI: It's just - as a subject because these subjects really link. They're connected - philosophy, economics and politics. And I'm really interested in studying them and understanding. But also, you know, it's a great opportunity to go into Oxford. And it's - when I was young, like, I already wanted to go to such a university. And I'm really grateful to get in there.
MARTIN: Do you think that you'll be able to - I don't even know if you care about such a thing - but to kind of be just another student? Is that - do you think that might be possible in these years, that you could just be another student?
YOUSAFZAI: I have gone through this phase before, to be a normal student, and that was my school life in the U.K. And in the beginning, it was really difficult because the way that girls would gossip, the way they would talk would be completely different. I was this kind of defined girl, like, outside. You get a definition. And I think it was that gap - had developed in the - initially. But later on, like, I made some good friends. And they came to know me more. And at the end of, like, my school time, I was just a normal student. And I participated in each and every activity in school.
MARTIN: I was going to ask you that because when we last spoke, I asked if you had time for any fun and your face kind of went no. And so have you had time for any fun?
YOUSAFZAI: Yes, since I made good friends at school and outside as well. We will just go for, like, food, go for bowling, go for mini-golf. And these were the things which I - initially, I just thought that, oh, I'm now the serious girl and meeting these politicians and this is not my time now to enjoy life and things. But my friends just reminded me, like, you're not that old yet. And you can have fun. You can be cheeky. You can love. You can smile. And so I think I'm really grateful for that. So that has helped me. And I think I'm ready for university in terms of that. But it would be challenging, it would be.
MARTIN: It is nice to see you smile, I must say. It is nice to see you smile.
YOUSAFZAI: Thank you.
MARTIN: So that is Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. We spoke with her in New York City, where she is attending the United Nations General Assembly. Malala Yousafzai, thank you so much for speaking with us. I hope we'll speak again.
YOUSAFZAI: Thank you so much. Thank you.
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