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Malala Yousafzai Visits Displaced Women


Five years ago, when she was 15 years old, Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan. She had been advocating for education for girls. She was not expected to live, but she did. And she continued her activism and her education in Britain. Malala Yousafzai received a Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest Nobel laureate ever. This week, she turned 20 years old, and she spent that birthday in Iraq. NPR's Jane Arraf caught up with her there. Hi, Jane.


GREENE: So why why Iraq? Why was Malala there?

ARRAF: Well, she's been going around to different countries to emphasize how girls should be able - allowed to go to school. And she has the opportunity now 'cause she just finished high school in Britain. So she came here to the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, and it was mostly to meet Yazidi girls and young women. Now, Yazidis are that ancient religious minority who suffered terribly when ISIS came in. Right. They used the girls and women as sex slaves.

She had a very somber meeting with a few of those girls who had just been released, who had been held captive in Iraq and Syria. And then she went to a place where there were hundreds of Yazidis still living in an unfinished building, and she spoke to a lot of other girls. Here's Malala introducing herself.


MALALA YOUSAFZAI: Hello, everyone. My name is Malala Yousafzai, and I come from Pakistan. And when I was about 10 or 11, in our region, the extremist-minded people called the Taliban - they banned girls' education; they were against women's freedom. And I could not go to school at that time. So in response to that, I started speaking out. And later on, I was targeted by extremists.

ARRAF: So she told them that, as she was recovering, she kept pushing for the rights of girls everywhere to go to school. And some of the girls who were there told her their experiences.

GREENE: Jane, I'm just getting chills hearing about this kind of meeting among young women. I love hearing you talk about it because you just don't get to cover this kind of stuff on your beat in that region usually.

ARRAF: That is true. And when you find these uplifting people and uplifting stories, you just cherish them.

GREENE: So tell me about the scenes.

ARRAF: So these girls, more than a dozen of them, were sitting on the concrete floor along with Malala and her father. And the girls were telling her about their experience. And it was almost as if these girls, when they had to flee ISIS and eventually made their way to safety, that wasn't the first thing in their minds three years later; it was that they had been discouraged from going to school. But they persisted. There was one 19-year-old who told Malala, her parents wouldn't let her go, but she took her brother's books, and she studied and studied. And she managed to eventually go to school. And then when she was a young teenager, they told her it was time for her to get married, and she basically ran away. Let's listen to a bit of her.

HADIA: Told them no, I will not. I'm not.


HADIA: Yeah, I am not. I have my dream. I have my hope I will finish, and I will be - go to American university and be a writer.

GREENE: Thinking about the future there. Well, speaking of the future, I mean, what is next for Malala herself? Did she talk about that?

ARRAF: She did. I sat down with her later, back in Irbil, to talk about what you do after you've won a Nobel Peace Prize as a teenager. And she's kind of in between being a teenager and an adult because she spent her birthday here at an amusement park with Kurdish girls, and she hopes to go and study at Oxford. Let's listen to a little bit of her.

YOUSAFZAI: I just finished my schooling, and I also said goodbye to my teenage life. I have entered my 20s. And you are out of the teenage life, and you're out of school. And - so it's a new phase, and I'm really excited for this.

ARRAF: And her mission now is to help convince the world that letting girls go to school helps everyone. And one of the really cool things about that meeting she had with the Yazidi girls was that one of them said to her, I saw you; I saw a video of you. And you said that one pencil, one book, one student can change the world, and I believe that.


ARRAF: It was magic.

GREENE: What a message. OK, NPR's Jane Arraf - Jane, thanks so much.

ARRAF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.
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