Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai yesterday thanked Trinidad and Tobago for showing the world how people can live in harmony with each other.
Yousafzai, 17, said she was thankful that citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims, were celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr together.
“I am really thankful that even though most of you are not Muslims but you are still celebrating Eid with your Muslim brothers and sisters. So thank you so much for showing the world how people live in harmony together with each other,” she said.
Yousafzai was speaking to members of several children’s homes in South Trinidad at the Lady Hochoy Home, Gasparillo.
Minister in the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure Stacy Roopnarine attended the function.
The teenager asked to go to children’s homes as part of her visit to Trinidad and Tobago. She was invited by the Ministry of Tertiary Education as part of the University of Trinidad and Tobago’s (UTT) tenth anniversary celebrations.
“I am very happy here because I met and I saw amazing children who were singing in very beautiful voices and I love the songs...it was amazing. Continue with it because you have great talent and great skills and you just need to identify your talents and you all have already done it. We don’t need any more polishing, so keep on going,” she said.
Yousafzai and her family were treated to a mini-concert by children from the Lady Hochoy Home and other children’s homes.
She said she was in Trinidad and Tobago to continue her campaign for education and to tell the world that in this country children were getting 100 per cent free education.
And Trinidad and Tobago should be an example to other countries, she said.
“And you should tell other countries to learn from this country and make education free for all children and there should be quality education for every child.”
As she looked at the children, Yousafzai said she wanted to tell her story to explain why she was there and why she was referred to as a great person.
“I am 17 years old. When I was ten or 11, I was living in Pakistan and there was a beautiful village. I was living there, Swat Valley. It was famous for its beauty. Tourists would go there to see the lush green hills and the mountains and waterfalls. I was a very happy girl, I was doing good in my studies. I was continuing my education. I used to get my medals and trophies and my father and mother used to be proud of me,” she said.
But then suddenly things changed in her life, she added.
In 2007, when Yousafzai was nine years old, terrorists entered her village.
“Some bad people came into our area and they were terrorists. They were called the Taliban. They started misusing the name of religion and said that education is not allowed for any girl and they said that no girl can go to school.”
Yousafzai said she was sad as she wanted to continue her education and become a doctor.
“I wanted to show the world that a girl has the power, she has the ability to contribute to her society. But these people, they were not listening to the people. They blasted more than 400 schools. And they said that no girl can go to school.”
Yousafzai said she and her friends began to speak out on education for girls.
“We started giving interviews to different media channels, newspapers and we wanted to tell people that this is happening in our beautiful Swat Valley. We don’t want to be out of school we want to learn. We want to become good people in the future. We want to contribute in our society. This is our dream,” she said.
Yousafzai said in 2009 there was a military operation and the Taliban were sent out of their village. She said the girls returned to school, but her campaign for education continued.
“I did not stop the campaign. I continued speaking out for education. In my street there are so many children who are out of school, who do not have access to any kind of education. Some of the children are orphans and no one is taking care of them. Some of the children are suffering from child labour. When I go to school these children go to other people’s houses to clean dishes and wash clothes. And I want to see those children not cleaning dishes but rather going to school and reading and having pens and books in their hands. This was my dream and for that purpose I continue this campaign of education and I am still campaigning it.”
Yousafzai said she wanted children to know that no one was perfect. She said each person had something special inside them.
“We have some special things and we need to identify it. We need to find it out, so trust yourself, believe in yourself, you are the heroes, you are the inspiration to people all over the world. You are going to be the future of this country so start contributing to it right now. Take care of your country, make it clean. Go to school every day, work hard, study and accept each other. Be kind to each other, love each other. This is what we all need. We do not need to make big efforts or build tall buildings. The only thing we need to do to make our country better is just be kind to each other and just love each other,” she said.
Roopnarine said a big part of Yousafzai’s success had to do with her family support.
“You are indeed very fortunate to have such a wonderful family and support structure around you. Congratulations on the wonderful work you have done internationally. I think you are an inspiration to many young persons and many persons not only in Trinidad and Tobago but internationally. Your struggle for the rights of girls and women, in particular, in the arena of education surely has not gone unnoticed by the international community.”
Roopnarine said, in Trinidad and Tobago, citizens were fortunate to have equal opportunities.
Lorna Ross, chairperson of Lady Hochoy Home, said the organisation’s mission was the same as Malala Yousafzai’s—to educate all children.
“Our children have a variety of handicapping conditions—autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, intellectual impairment. And they are educated to their full potential in religion, life skills, sport, art and craft, music and functional academics,” she said.