Like many people around the world I was horrified to learn that Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head on October 9, 2012 by a member of the Taliban. This young woman embodies the spirit and ambition that international educators would like to see in the global citizens that we purport to manufacture through ‘intervention’ and other pedagogies and methodologies in study abroad. I thought that it was only natural that the international education community would issue a statement condemning the attack, expressing solidarity with Malala and her community and serving as light or beacon of hope in the darkness to guide other advocates of education around the world.
According to the latest research, thirty two million girls around the world are not in school. This is tragic and unacceptable. While we in the international community may disagree in choosing how to advocate for education for all people, we should all be in complete agreement that at the very least we can stress the positive and emphasize the symbolism of figures like Malala. Immediately after the shooting the world reacted. With this in mind I created a petition asking NAFSA: Association of International Educators to take some action to recognize Malala and everything she stands for. I also contacted NAFSA on several occasions, but with no positive responses. After submitting the petition to NAFSA last week, I realized that it is very likely that nothing will be done. This is sad. Many organizations, even those not even remotely associated with education have publicly recognized the bravery of this young woman. Why will NAFSA not do the same thing? I am not sure, but I can’t help but think that we have missed a wonderful opportunity here. Time magazine has named Malala one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World,” and Vital Voices set up a fund in Malala’s name. Newsweek called her the “Bravest Girl in the World.” Clearly, the word is getting out. It is a wonderful opportunity for collaboration with different organizations and entrepreneurs for a very worthy cause, a cause that I believe is an essential part of international education. If not, then we run the risk of promoting an international education that suits American interests. I see no better way to promote education for all people than by recognizing what Malala has done and what she represents.
More importantly, I think inviting Malala or someone who works closely with her to speak at NAFSA would resonate much more with international educators than paying huge sums of money to have former world leaders or politicians speak at the annual conference. Kofi Annan is a great individual and he will deliver a reasonable message, but he will present, like many past keynote speakers, the tired point that we should pat ourselves on the back for the work that we do, ‘that we should always support student exchanges,” etc. Wouldn’t it be nice to listen to someone much younger than us, but who has had much more life experience? We can learn a lot from our youth, if we would only allow ourselves to listen.
There are other ways to promote Malala and her cause. I already mentioned the Malala Fund started by Vital Voices (link above). Another excellent program is to work with an organization based in New York City called 10 x 10. It has promoted a film titled “Girl Rising” (www.girlrising.com) that features the stories of nine girls around the world and their struggles to receive an education. The organizers are looking for people to arrange screenings around the country. This is a perfect opportunity for study abroad returnees to work on a project where they can reflect on their own international experiences and what it means to have an education in the US and abroad. To learn more about 10 x 10, visit its website at: https://10x10act.org/. Another project promoted by UN Special Envoy on Global Education, Gordon Brown, seeks protection for pupils and teachers in Pakistan. You may learn more about it by clicking on this link: www.educationenvoy.org.
Malala Yousafzai continues to do her work advocating for education for all girls around the world. Although we might not be able to publicly recognize her efforts we can each work with the Malala Fund and 10 x 10 to make sure more people and communities are aware of the challenges facing girls around the world today. If we are unable to do this, then I fear we have failed as international educators.