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June 2019
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2013-09 The Educational Activist

James column for the Sligo Weekender

There are situations in our supposedly civilized world in which a child should simply not be found, under any circumstances. No child should find themselves sheltering from the despicable and demonic horrors of chemical weapons. No child should have to cower in an attic in order to avoid being gassed to death in an oven. No child should be forced to sustain and suffer the trauma of being the sole survivor of a machete attack on her entire family, or endure the living nightmare of witnessing her family and friends burn alive inside a church, locked from the outside by a neighbouring tribe. No child's trust should ever be stolen away by molestation and rape. Similarly, no child should be shot in the head for simply seeking out an education. No child should be forced to undergo such challenging beginnings to life.

When Malala Yousefzai was recently awarded the "Tipperary International Peace Prize" (just one of many well-deserved plaudits), I decided to check out her celebrated UN speech in its entirety on You Tube. Proudly wrapped in the shawl of one of her late idols  Benazir Bhutto  Malala, on her 16th birthday, confidently and eloquently addressed the entire UN Assembly. By the end of the 19-minute clip tears streamed down my face.

In Ireland we all know students who make the most of their school years, achieving admirable results in Junior and Leaving Certs, thus setting themselves up well for their futures. However equally we know just as many, perhaps even more, who overlook the incredible opportunities handed to them, who proceed to blatantly waste their educations and potential, and more often than not their lives.

In the wise words of the late Samuel Sambuli (Founder and Director of "Cheryl's Children's Home" in Nairobi)  "Education is the key to every child's future". Malala Yousefzai realises that, and every child on this planet ought to study and digest her speech entirely, and also realise that it is education which will solve all of the world's problems. Deep down the Taliban leaders who unanimously agreed to execute this young inspirational "Educational Activist" on October 9th 2012 know it too. Extremists are scared of education, frightened of books and pens, and most of all petrified of powerful women's voices. The pen truly is mightier than the sword. 57 million children across the world, mostly girls, are unable to receive an education  in 2013 that is wrong.

The Taliban attempted to silence Malala by ambushing her bus, and shooting her in the forehead, simply for the crime of promoting the education of girls, and for speaking up for the rights of education of every child. There is something so positive and uplifting about describing Malala (who has been writing an online blog since 2009) as an "Educational Activist".

As Malala proclaimed in her landmark UN speech, they thought the bullet would silence her, but they failed. They tried to stop her aims and ambitions. But "out of the silence came thousands of voices. Weakness, fear and hopelessness died ; Strength, power and courage was born". Like so many before her, Malala's philosophy is one of non-violence. She recognises the futility and pointlessness of war, and that the gun does not, never has, and never will achieve peace. Every human being ought to have the right to live in peace, and to live with dignity.

Education is the only route to peace.

In her struggle to achieve peace, education and equality for every child, I honestly think it is not an exaggeration to place this non-violent 16 year-old Pashtun Sunni-Islam "Educational Activist" from the Swat area of Northern Pakistan on a pedestal alongside such other icons as Anne Frank, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and Gandhi. And I believe she richly deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for which she has been justly short-listed.

A proper education for all in Ireland might also serve to remove the unbelievable naivety surrounding the use of drugs, and the dangers of drugs and drug-trafficking. We need many more young inspiring "Educational Activists" worldwide. And we need the children of our questionably superior and more advanced Western World to stop taking the incredible opportunities served to them daily on a plate for granted.