'I miss Pakistan every day': Malala Yousafzai on what it was like going home

The Nobel Peace Prize winner was in Toronto and spoke to CBC's Metro Morning about going home to Pakistan and what's changed since she was shot in the head by the Taliban.

'It was the happiest part of my life,' the education activist told CBC's Metro Morning

Malala Yousafzai just returned from a trip home to Pakistan, her first visit since being shot in the head by Taliban gunmen for advocating the education of girls. She detailed her trip while speaking to CBC's Metro Morning during a visit to Toronto last week. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Malala Yousafzai just got back from a trip home to Pakistan — her first time back since being shot in the head by Taliban gunmen for advocating girls' education.

It was an emotional visit. Yousafzai sobbed while touring her hometown, something she said she usually doesn't do. But she missed home.

"I waited for this moment for such a long time," the 20-year-old said. "I miss Pakistan every day. I miss my friends and family and my school life."

The Nobel Peace Prize winner and honorary Canadian citizen now splits her time between charity work, activism and studying at Oxford University in Great Britain. She was in Toronto last week for a fundraising gala and spoke to CBC's Metro Morning.

The interview was conducted by Robina Aryubwal, an Afghan refugee who took on the Taliban in a different way — helping her parents lead a secret school in their home. The family then moved to Canada in 2015, where Aryubwal now studies at the University of Toronto.

Here's part of their conversation.

Yousafzai, right, with Robina Aryubwal, a Afghan refugee who helped her parents lead a secret school in their home before moving to Canada. (David Donnelly/CBC)

R.A.: How did it feel to return to your own town after all those tragedies happened to you?

M.Y.: "It was the happiest part of my life to go back to my home and to stand on that land again and to breathe the air and to meet my friends and family. I received lots of hugs and kisses and prayers and I saw my home again and it was so beautiful and I was welcomed by everyone.

Those memories are still in my mind and they will always be and I think about them and it just makes me happy."

R.A.: What was it like for you leaving Pakistan again?

M.Y.: "I had so many memories and thoughts and I was still trying to celebrate every moment and I was feeling a bit sad that I was leaving my home. But also, you know, looking forward to the future and thinking that I would be coming back.

It was my first trip but not last and I hope that I visit Pakistan again and again and more frequently. And it is my home. I should be able to visit at any time."

Yousafzai poses with her family members at her home during a visit to Mingora, the main town of Pakistan Swat Valley, on March 31. (Twitter/@Malala)

R.A.: Were you ever afraid when you were standing up to the Taliban?

M.Y.: "There was fear all around us and even sleeping at night, we were afraid that our house [would] get attacked ... or the terrorists [would] come to our house and attack anyone in our family and also while going to school we would be worried that someone would throw acid on our faces.

So it was a challenging time but it was also important for us to speak out. If we didn't speak out, we had to live in that situation for the rest of our lives and we could not tolerate that for a second. So speaking out was important."

It's been five-and-a-half years since Yousafzai was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen. She's gone on to win a Nobel Peace Prize and become an honorary Canadian citizen for her education activism efforts. (David Donnelly/CBC)

R.A.: Did you ever regret that you stood up to the Taliban?

M.Y.: "It was one of the most difficult times but when I saw the support that I received from people, when I saw that so many people stood up with me — they raised the banners of "I Am Malala." They prayed for me and they supported my cause of girls' education. I felt stronger than before and I felt that now I had the opportunity not just to speak out for girls in Swat Valley in Pakistan but for girls all around the world.

I think it was rather that going through that experience I gained more courage and more resilience and I'm grateful for that but the support of people was important in this."

Yousafzai, right, reacts as the House of Commons pays tribute in April 2017. She was given honorary Canadian citizenship. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

R.A.: What gave you the most joy when you were going to school?

M.Y.: "I was so happy when the Taliban left the valley and we started our schools back again and I think the joy was in this feeling that you know these people they came, they tried to stop us. They tried to deny our right to education but they failed and we won and now we are able to follow our dreams ...

... girls would be really happy. We would be talking together, enjoying our lessons together, you know eating and having candies and crisps and gossiping about our everyday life. And we used to stay till late and we loved staying at school playing sports like cricket and badminton."

R.A.: There's still resistance to social change and women's equality in Canada and other parts of the world. As young women going to university, how can we help make change happen?

M.Y.: "When I was in Pakistan, I just thought that in the west, everything was perfect. Now you know coming here and knowing that women are not paid equally as men, there's a gender pay gap. Women are not allowed roles in [some] higher positions.

There are many challenges that women are facing but it is important for women to join hands and to stand together for their equality, whether they're women in Afghanistan or Pakistan or whether they're women in Mexico or in Canada, in any part of the world. We have to unite in this."

Between her charity work and activism, Yousafzai studies philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University in Great Britain. She says it is hard but she is trying her best and meeting 'incredible' students and professors. (David Donnelly/CBC)

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

With files from Haydn Watters