Malala Yousafzai in Abuja, Nigeria, with Rebecca Samuel, whose daughter Sarah Samuel was among those kidnapped by Boko Haram militants (Photo: AP Photo/Olamikan Gbemiga)
Malala Yousafzai spent the weekend of her 17th birthday in Nigeria, visiting a group of girls who'd escaped from captivity at the hands of the militant group Boko Haram, and making an appeal for the release of the rest.
Yousafzai has been fighting for the rights of girls to a proper education since she was 11, as an anonymous blogger on the BBC Urdu website. She was only 15 when a Taliban gunman shot her on a public bus for her increasingly prominent advocacy in Pakistan. In 2013, the UN declared her birthday — July 12 — Malala Day, in honour of her courageous stand, and this year her foundation, the Malala Fund, pegged today as Malala Day.
Here's some footage of Malala meeting with parents of some of the kidnapped girls:
In an op-ed published in the Washing Post, Yousafzai talked about her visits with girls around the world living in poverty and facing daily violence in their communities. "Everywhere I have gone, I have been humbled by the power of all my sisters," she wrote. "I am grateful to have met many world leaders and inspiring people. But it is my sisters I carry with me."
She also wrote about her visits with the escaped Nigerian schoolgirls:
This Malala Day, I have come to Nigeria to honor the stories of these brave girls who have sacrificed so much to get an education and achieve their dreams. I am meeting with some of the abducted schoolgirls who have now escaped Boko Haram and also some of the families of girls still in captivity, to listen to their stories and call on Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan to do even more to help them. They suffer, but I believe they are stronger than their oppressors. Will you listen?
We are stronger than those who oppress us, who seek to silence us. We are stronger than the enemies of education. We are stronger than fear, hatred, violence and poverty.
After a meeting with President Jonathan, Yousafzai said he'd promised her the girls would be returned "soon," Reuters reports.
In a story about the visit, BBC reports that despite being a leading economy in Africa, Nigeria has an extremely poor record in education, with 42 per cent of kids between six and 11 not in school. It's statistics like these that Yousafzai hopes to turn around. "I know education is what separates a girl who is trapped in a cycle of poverty, fear and violence from one with a chance at a better future," she wrote in the op-ed.
The Malala Fund released this video to coincide with this year's Malala Day: