Malala’s Message

I want to help millions. But the thing is that — let’s start with one and two and then go on. ~ Malala Yousafzia

I just watched this video and it moved me to tears. I was struck by Malala’s amazing courage in the face of what most of us call “danger.” But a threat on someone’s life is only a threat if that person is afraid of dying. Malala is not. And she is also not easily intimidated socially, either. She even told President Obama, the most powerful man in the world, that she thinks drone attacks are fueling the terrorism of the Taliban.

Malala’s passion is education. She believes it is the solution to wars and learning to live with one another and is therefore important for everyone. When asked what she would do to defend herself if she was threatened by someone from the Taliban, she replied that at first she thought she would take her shoe and hit that Talib, but then she realized that this would make her no better than the terrorists. She finally came around to realizing that she would tell him she would want education for his children too. And in an astonishingly direct moment, she states that she would then say to him:  “That is what I wanted to tell you, now do what you want.”

Malala is clear that she wants for her message to live on after she dies. Only once in a while is a person born whose message for peace lives (or will live) beyond them — Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Thomas Merton, the Dali Lama — come to mind immediately. I’m sure there are women who had/have peace messages that are as important, but they may not be as remembered. For example, Aung San Suu Kyi,  the leader of Burma (also called Myanmar) comes to mind. For some odd reason, our media does not follow her story very much, and yet she is such a wonderful example of someone who suffered by confronting oppression and violence with her peaceful message.

Finally a woman with a powerful message about education is being followed by the media so that Malala’s message is heard around the world. What I love about her is that in the face of all her fame, she remains unassuming, and her message is just as fresh and passionate as I imagine it was when she first started speaking out against preventing girls from being educated in Pakistan. I dare say that Malala’s message will not be forgotten, even after her death. She has captured many people’s hearts and imaginations. We are awestruck by her undaunted courage and her ability to articulate her ideas so eloquently.

When asked by Jon Stewart where her love for education came from, she said, “We are all human beings. It is in our nature that we do not learn the importance of anything until it is snatched from our hands.”

I have two things to say about this: first, I have to sit back in astonishment at this young woman’s wisdom. Usually wisdom is something humans acquire with age and experience. For someone so young, she sure has some amazing insights.

The second thing I can say is: I know of exactly what Malala speaks. I will never forget how much I longed to return to school after I had earned my eighth grade diploma, signaling the end of school, spelling THE END. When my younger siblings returned to school in the fall, I went to my room and cried, my desire to go back was so keen.
There are several differences between my situation and Malala’s, of course. She did not see the day coming when she would be forbidden to go to school — it came without warning. And she was threatened with her life if she did go to school. She eventually decided to speak out against the oppression, because she believed in her own power to make a change. Up against the power of guns, that is pretty amazing.

I did see the day coming when I could no longer return to school. Like all other Amish children, I knew eighth grade would be the end of my school days. Just by progressing through the eight grades, I brought on the end. And there was nothing I could do about that. In Amish words, “This is the way it is.” No questions asked and no discussion. This was not a rule in the church, so it wasn’t even debatable.

So Malala’s message is near and dear to my heart. It wasn’t because of guns and violence that I had to choose between my community and getting education. It was because of a belief system — one that forbids education beyond the eighth grade for both boys and girls.

In the same culture in which we find Malala’s message to be so poignant, there is an acceptance that Amish parents should be allowed to limit their children’s education to the eighth grade. It’s as if the Amish are seen as noble savages — the rules that apply to parents in the mainstream culture for educating their children and for preventing child labor do not apply to the Amish — as if they are innocents and won’t do their children any harm by depriving them of an education.

I think it’s wonderful that many people feel moved to give to the Malala Fund that will help girls in faraway places earn an education. It’s wonderful that Malala is garnering this kind of support for such an important mission. There are also young people in this country who need help to earn their education. At first when young Amish people leave their communities, they have to overcome culture shock, fend for themselves financially, and otherwise overcome great obstacles to even begin thinking about acquiring a college education.

I ask that you not forget the Amish Descendent Scholarship Fund, which was conceived on Emma Miller’s graduation day. The ADSFund doesn’t have the visibility or the clout to make as much of a difference as Malala, but in our own small way, we are trying to help both women and men who leave the Amish and want to embark on their educational journey. We appreciate your support!

And by all means, give equal measure the Malala Fund. She is making such a difference to so many girls in the world to receive an education.

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