Malala Yousafzai shares what she wants for her 21st birthdayJuly 12, 2018
What does Malala Yousafzai want for her 21st birthday today?
“My birthday wish is that all girls can have access to safe and quality education,” the Pakistani human rights activist told “Good Morning America,” from Northeast Brazil, where she celebrated the big 21 by advocating for local girls’ rights to attend school.
The world watched Malala come of age under Taliban rule in northwest Pakistan. At just 15 years old, Malala was on the bus home from school when a masked man approached the vehicle and demanded to know: “Who is Malala?”
Nobody on the bus answered, though several girls turned to look at her. He then lifted a gun and shot the teen in the head.
Malala turned the harrowing experience into a launching pad for her already budding work as an activist for women and girls.
After surviving an assassination attempt, she continued to tirelessly advocate for the education of girls around the world, founded her own non-profit, wrote a bestselling memoir, starred in a documentary about her life and became the youngest-ever Nobel Laureate — all before the age of 21.
And she isn’t even taking today off.
How is Malala celebrating her birthday?
“I am celebrating my birthday in Brazil with these amazing and incredible girls,” she told “GMA” in a special message on her birthday. She said she has been having an “amazing time,” playing football and doing graffiti with local schoolgirls as well as just “learning from them and learning from their experiences.”
She spent the days before her birthday in the city of Salvador, in the Bahia state of Brazil, where she met with a local schoolgirl named Maikele. Maikele is part of the indigineous Tupinamba tribe from northeastern Brazil, and her father was assassinated as part of a territorial conflict, leaving behind her mother with nine children to take care of.
Despite her household duties, Maikele has always attended indigenous schools. She used to wake up at 4 a.m., walk five miles, and then take an hour long bus ride just to get to the local school. Though Maikele currently lives in a community where she can take a bus to school without trekking five miles, the bus is often cancelled due to rain or poor infrastructure. Malala spent the day with girls like Maikele to learn more about what barriers they face just trying to get an education.
“I’m also here to highlight the issues that these young girls are facing, and that there are 1.5 million girls in Brazil who are out of school, and we see this huge disparity when it comes to the Afro-Brazilian and indigenous population in Brazil,” she added. “So something needs to be done.”
“I’m here to raise my voice and stand with them and invest in local activists here,” she added. “My birthday wish is that all girls can have access to safe and quality education.”
She described her hunger for education in a 2013 interview with ABC News’ Diane Sawyer, saying: “In some parts of the world, students are going to school every day. It’s their normal life.”
“But in other part of the world, we are starving for education,” she added. “It’s like a precious gift. It’s like a diamond.”
How Malala has spent past birthdays
Malala has spent her past birthdays doing what she is most passionate about: Advocating for the rights of women and girls to get an education.
Last year, she spend her birthday in a camp for Internally Displaced People in Iraq, where she met with 13-year-old Nayir who fled her hometown of Mosul after ISIS took over the city. Nayir said she was out of school for three years, but after beginning to attend school at the IDP camp, she says “it was as if all my hopes came back.”
The year before, Malala spent her birthday in Kenya, where she met Rahma, a schoolgirl who escaped an arranged child marriage and fled to a refugee camp.
In 2015, Malala rang in her 18th birthday by opening a school for Syrian refugee girls living in an informal camp in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon.
In 2014, Malala spent her birthday visiting the families of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls in Nigeria.