On Malala Day, New Generation of Youth Demands Education

Image via tribune.com

Image via tribune.com

We were the first generation of youth to stage a takeover of the United Nations Headquarters. We were the first to demand the universal right to education on a world stage.

On July 12th, or Malala Day, a delegation of over 500 youth from over 75 nations gathered at the United Nations headquarters for the first ever youth takeover of the General Assembly, calling for world leaders to better serve our needs and to take our voices into account. In particular, we called for global education for each and every student. It's a youth movement for change, pure and simple.

Malala Yousefzai is at the head of this charge. The courageous Pakistani girl activist was shot by the Taliban last October, simply for advocating that girls be able to go to school. After a long recovery, she celebrated her 16th birthday at the United Nations, speaking in front of a group of 500 of her peers, demanding for change.

I was lucky enough to be one of the youth delegates who staged this takeover, representing the United Nations Foundation campaign Girl Up. Along with the other teens from Girl Up, I took part in this dramatic beginning to what is almost certainly a movement that will reshape the landscape of world politics--and rechannel energy and resources towards youth. It's time to harness the massive potential of youth to create a better world.

Today's generation of youth is the largest the world has ever known. The vast majority of these youth live in developing countries. Together, we have unprecedented potential to advance the well-being of the entire human family. But first, we deserve safety from violence. We deserve freedom from hunger. We deserve education.

Those were among the demands set forth in the The Youth Resolution: The Education Young People Want, an official document drafted by youth leaders and presented to the United Nations on Malala Day.

We owe it to the 57 million children who are out of school to put these resolutions into action.

As a youth delegate, sitting among my peers from around the world, I felt incredibly inspired by the urgency in their voices, the diversity of their experiences, and our shared need to create a world in which all children are able to get the education they deserve. During breakout sessions in which we brainstormed solutions and action plans for change, I was astounded by the dynamism of my peers, by their accomplishments, and by their selfless drive for change. Each and every person I spoke to that day brought something different to the table, whether it was the NYU student from Singapore or the younger brother of the UN representative from Uzbekistan.

But most of all, the most inspirational one of all, was Malala herself--the leader, the symbol of the movement, and as former prime minister of the UK Gordon Brown called her, "the most courageous girl in the world."

Her speech moved me to tears.

She spoke of Gandhi, of Martin Luther King, of Nelson Mandela as her role models who had inspired her to continue her fight. She said that she did not seek revenge on the Taliban, because she wanted education for the sons and the daughters of all the extremists, especially the Taliban.

"I don't even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there is a gun in my hand and he stands in front of me, I would not shoot him."

Her kindness, her compassion, her humble but determined spirit--and most of all, her refusal to give up, not just on herself, but on the 57 million youth who are still not able to go to school. "I speak so that those without a voice can be heard," she said.

And that's why we had all gathered there today. Malala began each sentence with, "Dear sisters and brothers," and her voice as she stood resolutely at the podium, sent shivers down my spine, reminding me that we were all fighting together. All 500 of us had gathered there that day because we believed so strongly in the right of children to a quality education--and because we believed in the power of youth, like Malala, to bring about that change.

I'm proud to be a foot soldier, an activist, a sister standing behind Malala in creating the world that we all wish to see. In the final moments of her speech, Malala called upon all the governments to fight against terrorism, to protect children from brutality and harm. She called upon the United Nations to expand opportunity and education for girls all over the world.

"The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions," she said, "but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born."

Coming home from the Youth Takeover, coming out of Malala Day, I know that all 500 of us left with new inspiration, new ideas, and new courage to create the world that Malala would like to see. This generation of youth is especially powerful.

I cannot wait to see what we accomplish.


Editor’s Note:  This blog post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

About the Author

Eva Shang is 17 and a rising freshman at Harvard University. She is Teen Advisor to the United Nations Foundation campaign Girl Up, a blogger for the Huffington Post, and Junior Delegate to the national gender equality campaign Vision 2020: Equality in Sight. In addition, Eva is a Girl Scout Gold Awardee, and has been honored by Philadelphia City Council as a “Rising Star”, part of the City of Philadelphia’s Next Generation of Women’s Leadership.