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Opinion: Shooting survivor advocates for better education

Robyn Parker
LIBERAL LOGIC
Free Press Opinion Columnist

There’s a place in Pakistan with a climate and landscape similar to the Grand Valley’s. The floor of the Swat Valley is even blanketed with orchards divided by a great river, and the peaches there are rumored to be delicious.

It’s a place where childhood marriage is more common for girls than education. Resources there aren’t much better for boys. In recent years, guns and religious extremism have decimated centuries of civilization. Orchards have been burned down and homes blown up. Most residents who weren’t killed in the conflicts have moved to safer places.

Despite receiving death threats for daring to be educated, there was a girl who vocally advocated for education on international media and went to school in the Swat Valley for as long as she could. Her name is Malala Yousafzai, and on October 9, 2012, her school bus was overtaken by Taliban fighters. At the age of 15, she was shot in the face at close range. Her two best friends were shot, too.

Incredibly, all three girls survived. After six months of treatment, which included learning to speak again, Malala continued her own education and advocacy for the education of girls. When she was 16 years old, she became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

I’ve always been taken with Malala’s story, probably in part because her age falls right between that of my own 16- and 19-year-olds. I cannot stop comparing their life experiences. When I heard she was going to be speaking in Denver this summer, I used my authority as Mom to mandate that everyone in my family clear their calendars in order to attend.

On the way over the mountains, I wondered if Malala’s trip to Colorado would afford any opportunities to explore our state. It became clear that national parks and museums hadn’t been high on her agenda when she told her audience in Denver that she’d spent 12 hours the day before in seven meetings with officials in Washington, D.C.

Malala had also spent her time visiting women in a Denver jail. She wanted to understand what sort of people are incarcerated and how many of them are really bad people.

After fleeing from terrorists, traveling all over the world, and meeting refugees and the most powerful politicians, she’d concluded that there are virtually no truly bad people. With the premise that crimes are always committed for a reason, Malala saw that poverty and/or abuse almost always played a part.

Malala argued that knowledge is the most powerful weapon against terrorism. She said we can kill terrorists, but we can’t kill terrorism. To end terrorism, we must address the issues that cause people to lose all hope and pick up weapons. Ending poverty and violence begins with education.

So much wisdom for a 17-year-old girl!

It was ironic that at the same time this high school student was spending her summer vacation advocating for peace and education, another young man just past the birthday that arbitrarily separates men from boys attempted to start what he called a “race war.” He shot nine black people, four of whom were old women, in an American church.

From what we know of the shooter, he tried to be well-educated in his self studies. He was able find enough news networks, organizations, and articles supporting his ideas of racial superiority that he believed his research was well-rounded and factual. His education led him to say to the people he murdered for being black, “You’ve raped our women and you’re taking over the country … I’m doing what I have to do.”

I like to imagine what would happen if we were to heed Malala’s advice. Could it really be so bad to make quality, affordable education available for everyone, and for every child to grow up with hope for a better life?

A fourth generation Coloradan, Free Press columnist Robyn Parker is the former host of the progressive community radio show, Grand Valley Live. She is a stay-at-home mom, active community volunteer and board member for local environmental and social justice organizations. Robyn may be reached at gjrobyn@gmail.com.


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