by Krista Madsen
Malala Yousafzai comes off as both a normal teenager in the documentary He Named Me Malala – teasing her brother, fawning over photos of male sports stars, worrying that her high school friends won’t accept her – and the bravest and wisest of heroines.
“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced,” Malala has famously said of her crusade for equal education rights around the world, which only escalated after she got shot in the head by the Taliban.
The 13 fifth grade girls of Tarrytown’s Troop 1484, inspired by the real-life story of the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, planned a recent film screening and panel for their Bronze Award project, the highest honor for a Junior troop. Unfortunately, the PG-13 rating thwarted the troop’s original plans to share the movie with all fifth graders. Instead they scheduled the event for the evening with parental guidance suggested and a much smaller turnout.
“We worked really hard raising money for the movie and the Malala Fund,” said troop member Marli. “I wish more fifth graders and their parents had come and not have been scared off by the PG-13 rating. We are fifth graders now, this is real, bad things happen in life, and that’s how we learn.”
The girls announced their own names at the podium in the Washington Irving auditorium and explained what it took to make the screening happen. Over the course of three months, they raised more than $400 through a spare change drive. After paying the licensing fee for the film, they were able to donate $300 to the Malala Fund to support girls’ education around the world.
Malala grew up in the Swat Valley of Northwest Pakistan in the classrooms of her father’s schoolhouse. Despite his lifelong stutter, her father was an outspoken critic of the Taliban regime occupying their homeland. Malala’s own public expression began when she started writing an anonymous blog for BBC Urdu about living under the occupation, when schools were being bombed and girls banned from anything but religious education. When she revealed her identity in a New York Times documentary, she quickly became a well-known advocate for girls’ education. The Taliban targeted her, and she was near-fatally shot on her school bus. Malala was transported to safety in Birmingham, England, which has been her home-base for further activism ever since. As she recovered, her voice only got louder and her stage broader as she now travels the world to advocate for education.
For Tarrytown Girl Scouts, these issues – the fight for equal education, or, the threat of terrorism – are a world away. But the girls connect with Malala and are inspired by her bravery, her ability to speak her mind, the way she always seems to just be herself whether meeting President Obama or joking with her beloved father.
“I am inspired by Malala to always stand up for what I believe in and do what I think is right,” said Maya.
“I really think the story is touching and inspirational. Malala’s story inspires us to raise money for girls’ education,” said Emily.
The panel after the film included Washington Irving Principal Susan Bretti, internal medicine physician Jenny So, Associate Professor of English and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Heather Hewett, and Adjunct Professor of Health Sciences Amy White. The women answered questions the girls had prepared about why it’s important to educate girls and how we can ensure this happens all over the world.
“What we’ve been doing in the past few weeks with our advocacy and marching – the girls participated in the Unity March, they went to the Women’s March – that is what helps get girls’ voices heard. Being a proud Girl Scout helps,” said troop co-leader Evelyn Poy.
“This was a fun project and we learned a lot about how other girls are treated in other countries,” said troop member Samantha. “I think we should be grateful for what we have.”