Visiting Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai, 17, said her ultimate goal was to ensure education was “100 per cent free”.
She also paid kudos to the warmth of the people of Trinidad and Tobago and lauded the beauty of the local landscape, which reminded her of her native Swat Valley, an administrative district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan.
Malala made the comments at the VIP lounge at Piarco International Airport after arriving in Trinidad yesterday afternoon.
Among those present were Tertiary Education Minister Fazal Karim and his wife Pastor Joy Karim, former T&T high commissioner to the United Kingdom Garvin Nicholas, and chairman of the Board of Governors of the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) Curtis Manchoon.
Her visit coincides with UTT’s tenth anniversary celebrations.
Malala was accompanied by her father Ziauddin and mother Toorpekai and brothers Atal Khan and Khushal Khan, along with chairman of The Malala Fund, Eason Jordan.
Malala, who now lives in Birmingham, England, is in T&T to continue her activism with two speaking engagements on Wednesday and Thursday at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) in Port of Spain.
Malala achieved international renown after she was shot by the Taliban for campaigning for education rights for girls and women.
During her remarks at Piarco yesterday, Malala said: “I heard children’s education is free and the BSc is free. This is how it should be—100 per cent education should be free. I will be happy to meet with the children and adults.”
She also thanked Karim for his ministerial invitation.
“I am enjoying it here. Even though I have not seen all the beautiful places, I looked out from the aircraft and I saw the mountains and the lush greenery. It was beautiful. It reminded me of home, it reminded me of my Swat Valley,” she added.
And she was struck by the fact “people are so kind here. It is the true beauty of the place”.
Before Malala’s arrival, Manchoon lauded her myriad accomplishments at a tender age.
“At just 17, she is a global education activist and a beacon of education. The public response has been profound,” he said.
Manchoon made reference to her recent visit to Nigeria where she was engaged in campaigning for the release of 250 girls who were kidnapped by terrorist group Boko Haram (translated as Western education is a sin).
He also said Malala’s survival and unbridled activism is an inspiration to everyone.
“We are all challenged. In life we will all have challenges. It is part of the reason we have invited Malala here. Her visit will coincide with our tenth anniversary celebrations,” said Manchoon.
On the heels of the formalities, Malala posed for photographs.
Karim greeted the pilot who had flown Malala and her entourage safely, then Malala and her party moved to the balcony area of the VIP section. There Malala caught a glimpse of a massive photograph of her in a pink floral sari with the iconic words “I am Malala” etched on it.
She had uttered those words when a Taliban terrorist enquired: “Who was Malala.”
A small group of onlookers and travellers waved red, white and black flags, smiled and took photographs of Malala on their cellphones.
Malala also showed her lighter side. When asked about her brothers, she said: “Unfortunately, they are here.”
Asked to share his sentiments, Jordan, who was also on his maiden visit to T&T, said: “It is outstanding. It is beautiful. Malala is happy to be here and to look at the challenges with regard to education. She was in Nigeria.”
Asked how she felt to be here, Malala’s mother Toorpekai said: “Blessed.”
Media relations consultant Anthony Dennison summed up Malala’s visit when he said: “It is an historic moment.”
About Malala Yousafzai
She is an activist from Pakistan who campaigned for education rights for girls in her country, which resulted in the Taliban issuing a death threat against her.
On October 9, 2012, while on her way home from school, a man boarded the bus Malala was in and shot her in the left side of her head; the bullet then travelled down her neck.
The shooting left Malala in a critical condition. A portion of her skull was removed to treat her swelling brain. She was later transferred to Birmingham, England, where she completed her recovery.
She gave a speech at the United Nations on her 16th birthday, in 2013.
She has also written an autobiography, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. It was released in October, 2013.
On October 10, 2013, in acknowledgement of her work, the European Parliament awarded her the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. She was also nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. She didn’t win the prize, but was named a nominee again in March 2014. She has met with world leaders, including United States President Barack Obama.