ON Oct 9, 2012, Malala Yousafzai became the target of an assassination plot by the Taliban for championing the rights of girls to education in her country.
The young Pakistani activist was on her way home from school when the hitman struck. She was not alone. With Malala, then 15, were two other young girls – Shazia Ramzan, 14, and Kainat Riaz, 16. They were students and friends going home after taking an examination on a typical school day.
The three girls were riding on a bus in the Swat District when the attack occurred. The assassin aimed to kill Malala in retaliation for her activism. She survived the attack but was seriously injured and airlifted to a military hospital in Peshawar for emergency surgery.
Shazia and Kainat were also hit by stray bullets but their wounds were not critical.
On Dec 10, 2014, when Malala received the Nobel Peace Prize in the Oslo City Hall in Norway, she told the audience, “I am not a lone voice. I am many. I am Malala but I am also Shazia and Kainat. The terrorists tried to stop us and attacked me and my friends, who were in our school bus in 2012 but neither their ideas nor their bullets could win. We survived. And since that day, our voices have grown louder and louder.”
In her acceptance speech, Malala also acknowledged the prestigious award was not just for her, stressing, “It’s for those forgotten children who want education. It is for those frightened children who want peace. It is for those voiceless children who want change.”
She was awarded the Nobel Prize for her struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for fighting for the rights of all children to education – at the cost of almost her life. At just 17 then, she was the youngest Nobel Prize laureate.
While growing up, Malala was already a well-known advocator of universal human rights. At the risk of her own life, she fought for the rights of women and children to get an education in her native Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, northwest Pakistan, where the local Taliban had banned girls from attending school.
thesundaypost met Malala’s friends and survivors of the shooting – Shazia and Kainat – when they were in Kuching recently for the Paint the World International Concert event. They were accompanied by Paint the World founder Lika Torikashvili from Georgia, Paint the World Malaysia Chapter founder and former youth icon Aziza Aznizan, members of the organising committee, and performers.
It was Aziza who made the meeting with Shazia and Kainat possible.
Touched and humbled
Asked how they felt when their names were mentioned by Malala in her speech at the Noble Prize presentation, they concurred they were deeply touched and humbled.
Shazia said, “We felt very honoured because she remembered us. She has helped us a lot and we’re very proud of her. She deserves the award.”
Added Kainat, “She sacrifices a lot and a lot of people are inspired by her. Everyone wants to be like Malala.”
According to reports on the shooting, a masked gunman stopped the bus and shouted “which one of you is Malala? Speak up or I will shoot you all”.
Malala identified herself and was instantly shot. The bullet travelled 18 inches from the side of her left eye through her neck and lodged in her shoulder. Doctors had to operate after swelling developed in the left part of her brain which had been damaged when the bullet passed through her head.
Although injured, Kainat and Shazia were composed enough to speak to reporters and provide details of the mayhem. The incident left them to face life-changing consequences.
Recalling the moments of the shooting, Kainat said she was discussing the day’s exam topic with her friend while Shazia remembered looking out the bus window but both weren’t aware of the arrival of the assassin or that the bus had been stopped.
“Suddenly we heard someone asking which one of us was Malala. I looked at the person talking and saw him holding a gun. The next moment, he started shooting. I got hit in my left shoulder and my hand. Everyone was screaming,” Shazia related.
Kainat remembered all the 15 girls in the bus were terrified. She felt a sudden sharp pain when a bullet grazed her arm. She then saw Malala collapse to the floor splattered with blood and thought Malala had been killed.
After the shooter had fled, Shazia was taken to hospital for treatment while Kainat was too terrified to even think of being admitted. Instead, she ran all the way home, gripping her injured arm. When she reached her house, she yelled to her family “Malala is dead!”
Kainat said she decided not to stay in the hospital because she feared the gunman might return to finish her off. She was treated at home by a visiting doctor. She revealed after the shooting, she lived in fear every day. What was unfortunate was that her neighbours felt their safety was threatened by her presence in the community.
People in the neighbourhood started to believe she was also a target of the Taliban. This was made worse by a bomb explosion near her house, killing one of her neighbours. The prevailing circumstances caused her and her family to be treated as outcasts. They were constantly pressured to leave their home.
Kainat said even today, eight years later, the disquieting consequences of the shooting still unnerved her.
Shazia stayed in the hospital, about three hours drive from her home, for about a month before being discharged as an outpatient with follow-up checks and treatments. She said they later heard from the news that the shooter was arrested and he turned out to be only a 14-year-old boy.
The attempt on Malala’s life sparked an international outpouring of support for her. Her story grabbed the attention of the world’s media. Offers of medical care came from around the world. She was later brought to the United Kingdom for life-saving treatment.
At that time, her two friends stayed behind in Swat Valley, struggling with the aftermath of their traumatic ordeal. They were desperate to return to school but feared for their lives.
On Malala’s story being the focus of global attention, they said they were very proud of her and to be her friends, acknowledging her tireless efforts in fighting for the education of girls, particularly her courage to speak her mind that girls should have as much right to education as anybody else.
Remembering her friends
While still recuperating, Malala received many offers to continue her education. One came from UWC Atlantic College in the Vale of Glamorgan, South Wales. Malala was overwhelmed with gratitude but she had already settled in Birmingham and enrolled at the private Edgbaston High School for Girls. She had not forgotten her two friends and asked if the UWC Atlantic College offer could be extended to them instead.
As a result of her plea, Shazia and Kainat were given full scholarships to study at UWC. Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, helped them get their visas. The two girls arrived in South Wales in 2013 and initially had only each other for support. Malala had her family with her in Birmingham.
Shazia and Kainat struggled to adapt to a different culture and learn a different language. But they also treasured their new-found freedom and peace. In time, they got used to their new environment and overcame their homesickness and are now doing medical courses at the University of Edinburgh.
“We do go back to Pakistan twice a year to visit our family and friends,” Shazia said, adding that she always keeps in touch with her family and is thankful they are strongly behind her in the pursuit of education.
According to her, the situation in Pakistan today has changed and she is no longer afraid to go home.
“Pakistan has improved significantly with new political and socio-economic development taking place. Now everyone can have access to education.”
Shazia pointed out that even though she and Kainat were separated from Malala, they were still ‘united’ in the same cause – promoting education for girls in their country.
And thanks to social media, she said, they could keep in touch and would meet when there was an opportunity, adding that she and Kainat are thankful for the help and support from Malala and her family.
On why they are so determined to promote education for girls in their country, they said education is knowledge, a path to a brighter future and a means to learn new skills, break out of the poverty cycle and help others.
While in Kuching, Shazia and Kainat visited Technology College Sarawak (TCS), which belongs to Aziza’s father. They met and mingled with the students and felt honoured to be allowed to give a talk.
Shazia said she was particularly touched to learn the college gives scholarships to needy students as she could empathise with such benevolence after what she had gone through.
She was also awed by the fact that the college belongs to Aziza’s father, saying it shows he is a man who fervently supports education and helps anyone who wants to learn in earnest.
Both girls also called in at Laila Taib Orphanage Complex and spent time with the children, taking home with them fond memories of the visit.
Asked if they had any message for the young Malaysian girls, they said girls should cherish their opportunity to education and work hard for their dreams.
“Don’t give up. When you have gained knowledge, please share with others and use your knowledge to help others.”
Paint the World
In 2013, Lika Torikashvili and friends in Tbilisi, Georgia, founded a youth organisation called Paint The World (PTW) to bring colours to the lives of the needy and destitute. Its holistic aim is to serve through charitable works by uniting youths of different races, nationalities or socio-economic backgrounds to create a peaceful and sustainable future generation (aka Alpha Generation).
The PTW movement started with just four young members but in just two years, it had spread throughout the country.
Teen PTW volunteers get connected with other youngsters in hospitals, foster homes, orphanages, shelters and schools to host events, including performances, music therapy, games and colourful activities that can cultivate fun, happiness and a spirit of camaraderie.
While pursuing her study at UWC Atlantic College, Lika was inspired to spread the PTW ideals.
“After all, human beings in need have the same basic wish that people will not forget them but come to visit and interact with them and do things together,” she said, realising that such a people-centric approach could have international application or appeal.
While studying in UWC Atlantic College, Lika befriended Aziza Aznizan and noticed that her Malaysian friend was showing an interest in the PTW movement.
Together, both girls brought the PTW movement to other parts of the world such as France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Philippines, Indonesia, Oman, Qatar, and South Africa.
Lika hopes her friendship with Aziza can send a very powerful message to the world as she is a Jew and Aziza is a Muslim.
The duo from different backgrounds have come together as friends to manifest their universal humanity, exhibit empathy and tell the world that no matter how different people are, they can still ‘Paint the World’ together and make it a colourful, peaceful and happy place for everyone to live in.
They brought ‘Paint the World’ to Malaysia with the first charity event in Miri in 2014. Since then, they had been organising the PTW Concert in Malaysia for the past four years. The latest one was held in Kuching on Feb 15 with the themes incorporating sustainability, wildlife preservation, women’s right to education, youth leadership and entrepreneurship.