Our son graduated from high school in June. He's grateful. Living in North America with access to public school is a luxury that we will never take for granted. As he walked across the stage, I thought about the 60 million children in our world who are not getting an education. An education is the way out of poverty and the ultimate peace weapon to end war.
Our son's education in public school, like many North American children, has been a journey. At one point he unfortunately faced bullying. He was beaten and threatened on the school bus. We moved schools. We were fortunate. We were able to protect him. We were able to ignore the bully, give him no attention and focus on our son and his needs. Not everyone is so fortunate. Sadly, many children face far more horrific acts of violence in attempting to get their rightful education.
On October 8th 2012, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head and neck by an insurgent group (that shall remain nameless) returning home from school in Pakistan. This group was started by a group of students themselves. They decided that girls over the age of 11 should not be allowed to learn to read. This group wants a pure race, and they are listed on the global terrorist list. And yet for some reason, they get interviews with the media? Makes no sense. The student is the story, not the oppressor. Malala's voice is the one that we need to hear, not the oppressor.
Our son is a young man who cares deeply about others. There is one thing he makes a big deal over, and that's the treatment of girls and their education. One day he came into my office when he was still in junior high and said, "There's a new girl in school, I would like for you to sign a book for her and I will give it to her. Her family is from Pakistan and a bomb went off as they drove through the market." He said, "I want her to feel welcome at school in Canada." I signed the book to her.
The next day, I said to my son, I have been thinking about you all day. I am so moved by your gesture for this girl. I realized then and there that these boys and men who care deeply for women and girls and their education from every generation need to be the voices alongside women for the rights of children to an education. What does that look like? How do we make this a reality?
The UN Chief has called for a countdown to International Day of Peace, September 21, 2013. He is calling on all of us, governments, media, academics -- our entire community -- to play a part. He said, "We must support peace education programs, protect students and teachers from conflict, help rebuild schools destroyed by war, and ensure all girls and boys have access to a quality education that includes learning about resolving and preventing conflicts."
The same day of my son's prom, Reuters published an article called "A fragile peace with Taliban if school attacks escalate" by Gordon Brown.
In the article we learned that altogether 1,000 Pakistan and Afghanistan schools have been bombed, burnt down or simply closed through intimidation in the last three years!
This is where I found out that July 12th is Malala Day. This is what speaking up for the rights of others looks like. This brave young woman is refusing to give a voice to the oppressors. She is refusing to be scared away from her human right to an education.
We have a chance on Malala Day to ensure that the voices of bullies and oppressors are no longer heard by anyone. We ignored the bullies when our son was bullied. His graduation last week is the pay off. We must not give the oppressors a platform. Take away their voice and focus on those who wish to be kind and support others. Malala is spending her 16th birthday, July 12, at the United Nations to be the voice for others who also deserve to have a safe education.
Our commitment to Malala, to our children, and to all of the children and people who face oppressors is to ensure the student is the story, not the oppressor. If media around the world join us in the UN Chief's call for us all to participate in taking away the voice of the oppressors and focus upon the lifting of victims to victors, we will get there.
The UN Assembly for youth will be broadcast live on the UN Web TV www.webtv.un.org
For more information on Malala Day visit www.globaleducationfirst.org/2507.htm