She left her native country aged 15, after being shot for advocating for girls’ education.
Nobel peace laureate Malala Yousafzai has returned to Pakistan for the first time since she was shot in the head by the Taliban more than five years ago.
Yousafzai, now 20, was attacked by a Taliban gunman in October 2012 for advocating education for girls. She was airlifted to Britain for medical treatment, and until this week had not set foot in her native country again.
But this week, Yousafzai travelled with her father and younger brother to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, and gave a tearful speech on national television in which she emphasised the continuing importance of education.
“It’s the happiest day of my life. I still can’t believe it’s happening,” she said, according to The Guardian. “I don’t normally cry… I’m still 20 years old but I’ve seen so many things in life.”
Yousafzai discussed her charitable foundation, the Malala Fund, which works to promote and facilitate girls’ education, switching between English, Pashto and Urdu as she did so.
Sahid Khaqan Abbasi, the prime minister of Pakistan, said that Yousafzai was a national hero.
“Welcome home,” he told her. “When she went away, she was a child of 12. She has returned as the most prominent citizen of Pakistan.”
Reuters reports that Yousafzai is unlikely to visit her home region of Swat during her visit to Pakistan, due to security threats against her.
“It’s been a long-held desire of Malala Yousafzai and her parents to visit Swat and see her relatives and friends. But she was not given permission due to security concerns,” a relative told the news agency.
Yousafzai was 15 when she was shot by the Taliban on her way home from taking an exam in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. The Taliban had banned girls from going to school in 2009, and Yousafzai had established herself as an outspoken campaigner against this policy. (Her father, Ziauddin, is also an education activist who encouraged her campaigning.) The bullet passed through her head, resulting in her brain swelling and her being put into a coma.
Six days after the shooting, Yousafzai was airlifted to Birmingham to receive medical treatment. She did not return to Pakistan after she recovered from her injuries, in part because the Taliban issued a statement saying that it intended to target her again.
She completed her schooling in Birmingham, was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2014, and began studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at Oxford University last September. She continues to campaign for girls’ education around the world.
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