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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Malala's Family Ties

Oct. 8, 2015

In this week of the Nobel announcements, we look at last year's winner of the Peace Prize. Malala Yousafzai is campaigning as hard as ever for girls' education. NHK's senior commentator Aiko Doden met her for an exclusive interview. She learns that what keeps Malala going is her family.

Doden: You have turned 18 now, which is much closer to being an adult. Do you feel that your sense of mission is stronger now?

Malala: Well, I am an adult child now according to the law. And now it is important that I continue this, but with more hard work. Now turning 18 will not stop me. It is part of life you get older. Whatever age you are, it will continue. There will be criticism, sometimes good, sometimes not so good. But you have to keep on your journey and you have to keep on going and if you focus too much on criticism you will not be able to continue at all.


Malala's journey has been about one goal -- ensuring all women and children have the right to quality education. Addressing the United Nations, she said, "One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world."

She is calling on world leaders to act. These days Malala is focusing on education for Syrian refugees. She visited a sprawling refugee camp in Jordan in February last year. More than 2.7 million Syrian children are unable to go to school due to the civil war.

Malala opened a school in July for Syrian refugee girls in Lebanon. Most of the costs were covered by a non-profit fund she started, to support educational projects. We asked her to expand on her remarks that world leaders are failing the Syrian people, especially its children.


Malala: It is very clear for the past four, five years, children and people have become refugees from Syria, not in hundreds, but in thousands and even millions, so if we keep on ignoring them, keep on ignoring the education for these children, then there will be a generation lost. And education is the right of every child. Being a refugee should not be made an excuse and even if the child is a refugee away from home for one month, two months, three months, the child needs an education and it does not make a difference whether the child is a refugee or not.


Malala was shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban in October 2012.

She was flown to a hospital in England for emergency surgery.

She now goes to high school in Birmingham and is continuing her education advocacy. The shooting has also brought big changes to her family.

The change comes down to a single belief described by Malala in a documentary film. She says: "There is a moment when you have to choose whether to be silent or stand up."

The film is released this month. It depicts Malala's remarkable life, including her relationship with her family.

"They shot the left side of my head," she says in the film. "But the gun and bullet couldn't silence us. I'm the same Malala."

Her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, has always supported her. He accompanies Malala wherever she goes. She has also been a big influence on him. He has even started doing housework since their family left Pakistan.


Doden: Have your father’s cooking skills improved?

Malala: He is trying his best, but it is hard. Certainly it is a great change in his life. A person who thought in the beginning he had no idea men would also cook but as he was growing up, and realizing that women also have equal rights. Like, why should we say only women should cook, and men should not? So he is learning, he makes breakfast for us every morning when we go to school. So he is a very nice father, but he needs to learn more.

Doden: What about your mother, you said that you enjoyed doing homework with her. How is she doing with her work?

Malala: She left school when she was only 5 or 6, and she sold her books and bought some candies, and that was it. That was the end of her journey to school and education. My mother is doing very well. It is really nice to have mother and daughter sitting together, and in her homework she is learning every day and she has so much love for education.


Malala is urging young people to raise their voices and take action. “Promise to all children, children in Pakistan, and in India and in Syria, and across the world, promise them peace, promise them prosperity, promise them education,” she told a UN summit last month. She delivered her speech alongside 193 youths from all over the world, including girls who have been standing up for the right to education.


Doden: You often say ‘Let’s stand together’. Who are you addressing that message to?

Malala: It is children whose voices are so powerful that they can really change the world, and there should be no age limit. If you are a child, you should not think that your voice is not so powerful. Your voice is powerful. It is your voice, and you should use it in order to highlight the issues that you are facing. My message is that every child deserves quality education and that we should not remain silent and wait for someone else to speak, and for someone else to come and solve it, and that it is our responsibility to take part in it.


Aiko Doden joined NEWSROOM TOKYO anchors Aki Shibuya and Sho Beppu in the studio to discuss Malala’s family and background.

Shibuya: We can see that Malala was brought up in a very loving family, and she appears to be very close to her father. What can you tell us about him?

Doden: He is an educator who founded a school in their hometown in the Swat Valley, where Malala was educated. He defied the Taliban's threats and protected Malala and other children. The school was their world, their paradise, and Malala enjoyed every minute.

Beppu: This new documentary about her is called "He Named Me Malala." Why did the filmmakers choose that title?

Doden: Her father named her Malala after a 19th century Afghan hero Malalai, who stood up and inspired the Afghan fighters to fight against the British troops, but she was killed. Malala's message is that although she was named Malala by her father, she has overcome that destiny, and she is herself.

Shibuya: And what can you tell us about her mother?

Doden: Malala knows it was her mother who always stood firmly for the family in whatever situation. But her mother's own education came to an end when she was 5. Malala remembers when she was small, she was saddened to see her mother unable to read the prices at the market.

But now in England, she has resumed studying English. The past few years was no doubt a challenging time for the family, but the father is learning to cook, which is new for the family, her mother is enjoying studying. The family seems to be making the most of the changes that have happened in their life in a very positive way.

Beppu: I get the impression that not only were her parents been an inspiration to Malala, but Malala and her parents influence one another?

Doden: I think so too, you cannot bring about a global change if you can't bring about a small change. That is why Malala speaks of the need to convince uncles, fathers and the elders in the community that education is a right, not a privilege. It would eventually mean transforming the society into a society where its people say ‘yes’ to education, receptive about basic human rights and women’s rights. Such work may take time to bring about change but it seems like the only way forward.