07/31/2014 12:49 EDT | Updated 09/30/2014 05:59 EDT

Malala's Father Is Also a Hero

Malala Yousafzai has recovered to become a crusader for universal education. Less often do we hear about Ziauddin -- or "Zia", as he is affectionately known -- who was the family's first crusader. He is his daughter's greatest champion and confidant.

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BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 26: Ziauddin Yousafzai talks to the media after visiting his daughter Malala at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, on October 26, 2012 in Birmingham, United Kingdom. 15 year-old Ziauddin is being treated in the UK after she was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan two weeks ago. (Photo by David Jones - WPA Pool /Getty Images)

by: Craig and Marc Kielburger

Ziauddin Yousafzai thought the Taliban might come for him. Only him.

For years, he'd run schools that educated girls in Pakistan's Swat Valley District. And the threats came regularly.

"We took it for granted they would never go for a child."

As the world knows, they did. As his daughter, Malala, clung to life after a Taliban bullet passed through her skull, "my world just turned into a big black hole" From that moment, he told us recently, "I was no longer a campaigner for peace or education. I just remained a father."

Malala Yousafzai has recovered to become a crusader for universal education, addressing the General Assembly of the United Nations and recently meeting with the President of Nigeria to discuss the shocking kidnapping of schoolgirls there.

Less often do we hear about Ziauddin -- or "Zia", as he is affectionately known -- who was the family's first crusader. He is his daughter's greatest champion and confidant. Recently their campaign for girls' education brought the pair to Kenya where they helped us build a school. We talked to Zia about his passion for education, and his pride in seeing his daughter surpass him as an activist and teacher.

Zia grew up in a large family with one brother and five sisters. There were "hills of difference" in his father's attitude towards his sons and daughters. Zia and his brother got the best schooling their father could afford. His sisters got none. Zia was expected to become a doctor. His sisters were to be married off as soon as could be arranged.

"I was conscious about women's rights from the very beginning and I thought if I had daughters I would be a different father and I would treat them as I treat my sons," Zia told us.

Zia became a teacher, and helped open schools that included girls, in defiance of local tradition, and of Taliban law. "If I want good qualities, good character, strong character, and good personality, a positive personality in my child, I must bring all of those changes in myself first."

And then Zia's wife gave birth to their first child, a daughter. Zia "fell in love with her eyes." Educating Malala became his priority, and his greatest teaching success.

In Kenya, the pair teamed up to teach a class, with Malala offering a geography lesson on Pakistan. After the class, some of the Kenyan students said they thought Malala was the better teacher. Zia feigned disappointment, but confided to us: "I was extremely excited because yes, my daughter is better than me and that is what a father wants."

It's heart-warming and hilarious to watch Zia and Malala spar with each other, equally matched in verbal battle and playful banter. In Kenya, we introduced father and daughter to our travel ritual: the "moment of gratitude." At the end of a day of volunteering, everyone shares a brief moment that inspired them. When Zia began to run long, Malala tried to rein him in. "But I have such a wonderful daughter, I must mention that," Zia replied with mock innocence. "But your wonderful daughter would love for you to go shorter," she volleyed back with an impish grin.

In the aftermath of the shooting, and Malala's global fame, Zia says his role as her protector is one of his most important responsibilities -- protecting not just from threats, but from the overwhelming demands on her."Everybody wants to take some part of her."

So Zia is the bulwark and the balance, ensuring his daughter's celebrity does not overcome the fact she is also still a teenager who must continue her studies. Education is ever his priority.

But even as she learns from him, Zia tells us he learns from her. "I always appreciate her and value her wisdom and I always listen to her."

And as Zia points out, all of us can learn from Malala, and our own children, as well. "When you listen to a child, you appreciate the wisdom she speaks."

Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger founded a platform for social change that includes the international charity, Free The Children, the social enterprise, Me to We, and the youth empowerment movement, We Day.


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