“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

A standing ovation and thunderous applause welcomed Malala Yousafzai on stage at the Social Good Summit in New York on Sept 23. The energy in the room was palpable and unlike any other panel yet. What followed were twenty minutes of sheer inspiration and even a a few emotional moments.

Malala was accompanied by her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai and friend and CEO of the Malala Fund, Shiza Shahid, and the three were joined on stage by Elizabeth Gore of the United Nations Foundation. This panel was special to me not because of the uniqueness of the topic but because of the uniqueness with which the topic was approached. This time, the simplicity not complexity of words, concepts, and ideas is what made the audience reflect. Here was a girl who had been fighting for her right to study for years, speaking out against a system that no one else dared to provoke, and who understood the far-reaching positive impact of education better than most others in her region of the world. Here was a girl who paid a heavy and unfair price for her bravery but instead of nursing feelings of revenge and anger, only grew more resolute and committed. She believes that a book and a pen are much more powerful than guns and tanks. And she is right. I was left wondering why things that are so obvious to this 16 year old girl are incomprehensible to so many individuals around the world.

What stayed with me most afterward was something Malala’s father Ziauddin said. On being asked about the role he has played in his daughter’s life, he said, “Too many young girls have their wings clipped – they aren’t allowed to live or be free. The only thing I did was accept her as an individual and let her be free.” There was something so simple and yet profound about this. While it seems like the most basic thing and was dismissed by him as the “only thing” he did, it is actually the most important. It is often the missing link. Too many parents around the world fail to look at their daughters as deserving the same independence, opportunities, and support as their sons. Malala’s father is an example for parents around the world who need to learn to look at their daughters as individuals, to respect and encourage them to be who they are. If more people followed Ziauddin’s lead, they would unleash the potential of a million Malalas.

Ziauddin also insisted that terrorists are against everything that stands for civilization and culture. They thrive in the darkness caused by illiteracy. Ziauddin’s faith in the power of education to spread light and opportunities was clearly passed on to his daughter. Malala concluded by saying, “Every thing that is a reality now, was once a dream. And so I dream that every girl around the world will be educated, and if we all work toward it, this too will become a reality.”. It was unreal standing so close to her and her conviction, passion, and commitment were evident and contagious. This is a girl who the Taliban couldn’t silence. This is a girl who will help children around the world have a brighter future.

Malala

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