Malala Yousafzai on empowering girls, returning to Pakistan
Published Thursday, April 12, 2018 10:10PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, April 12, 2018 10:26PM EDT
Five-and-a-half years ago, a Taliban gunman aimed his weapon at Malala Yousafzai and pulled the trigger, forever changing the young education activist’s life.
Now 20 years old, the honorary Canadian citizen and Nobel Peace Prize laureate sat on stage in Toronto Thursday with CTV Chief Anchor Lisa LaFlamme to discuss her work and her recent trip to Pakistan -- her first visit home since that fateful Oct. 9, 2012 day.
“We didn’t leave our country by choice and this time I was determined that I wanted to see my home, my family, just to breathe the air of my country,” Yousafzai said in front of an audience dominated by Ryerson University students. “Every moment, I couldn't believe it was happening and it was the most beautiful part of my life: I went to my home, I went to Swat Valley, and I saw those mountains and that beautiful river again and I met my friends from school.”
Through her non-profit, the Malala Fund, Yousafzai also recently opened a school in her hometown in Pakistan’s troubled Swat Valley.
“When I started campaigning for girls’ education, I said, ‘Well, we have to start from home,’” Yousafzai explained. “And that's when we started building the school with the help of our donors and supporters, but also the Nobel Peace Prize money. And the school has started -- it has opened. I'm so happy that the girls in the village are going there… it's a state-of-the-art school that will change the village. And you know, today you have students, but tomorrow you will have doctors and engineers. You will see the health and the economy and the wealth of that place improve.”
Nowadays, Yousafzai also balances her activism and charitable work with studies at the U.K.’s University of Oxford.
“Usually, when it’s my holiday, I go and spread the message -- I go to Lebanon and Jordan while some people might be going to the beach,” she said with a laugh.
Despite her global stature, Yousafzai claims she’s just a “normal” student who, like many of her peers, pulls all-nighters to get her assignments in on time. But she also doesn’t take her new life for granted.
“I still remember every day (in Pakistan) when I would get up and I was scared that when I was walking to school these extremists would stop me or they could attack me,” she said. “And I also remember that it wasn't just extremists, but also the ideology that women should (not) have access to education and women were not equal to men.”
Speaking Thursday, Yousafzai also reiterated the message she made when she addressed Canada’s parliament exactly one year ago while receiving her honorary Canadian citizenship.
“I hope that Prime Minister Trudeau will fulfill his commitment to the G7 and make contributions to girls’ education, but also make it his top priority,” she said. “And I hope that Canada can lead in this. I want Canada -- you know, as an honorary Canadian citizen now -- I would be proud of Canada to be leading in this cause of girls’ education because when we educate girls, we produce empowered women.”
Yousafzai’s work in girls’ education has even inspired her own mother to learn how to read and write, she said.
“Usually it's in a family the mom teaching her daughter and helping her in homework,” she said. “But in our house it's the other way around -- and she inspires her and I’m learning a lot from her.”
Yousafzai also offered her young audience advice on changing the world.
“If you want to be change makers, you have to take steps: real steps, practical steps,” she explained. “Whether it is giving equal rights to everyone in your community, whether it is speaking out when you see women not given equal opportunities in life, it is speaking out -- it is saying you notice something but you are going to go and you're going to challenge it.”
“Listen to your heart,” she added later. “Do follow that voice that is inside you and believe in yourselves. Because sometimes we think, ‘I'm just one person,’ and, ‘How can I change the whole world?’ But you never know and the day comes when you realize your voice is reaching millions of millions of people.”
With a report from CTV Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme