Sharing my learnings from the book, We are Displaced by Malala Yousafzai
We are Displaced by Malala Yousafzai
The book opens with Malala’s own story of displacement. As a child, her family fled Taliban rule and lived as displaced people in other parts of Pakistan. After relocating to Birmingham following her attack, Malala was unable to return to her home country for six years. Cover art for Malala’s book
“We Are Displaced” introduces girls from Colombia, Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and around the world — many of whom Malala has met through her campaign for girls’ education. They share their stories of struggle, triumph and hope.
- Malala Yousafzai is an international activist and advocate for women and girls. Malala was displaced from her home in Pakistan by the violence of Afghani fundamentalists the Taliban. But she never stopped her tireless advocacy for female education.
- In her travels, Malala has met many women and girls and listened to their stories. By sharing some of these, she helps to illuminate the complex tangle of emotions that many displaced people feel, from despair to defiance and grief to gratitude. They are stories of perseverance through horrific circumstances, and of people building new lives for themselves as they dream of a brighter future.
- Malala was born in 1997 in Mingora, the central city in Swat. Her childhood was a happy one, and her memories are full of play with friends and visits to extended family in the mountain village of Shangla.
- Then, in 2005, a devastating earthquake hit Pakistan, killing 73,000 people and leaving many more vulnerable. It was under these circumstances that people became more susceptible to the messages of male religious extremists, who also provided aid to survivors. These men called the earthquake a divine warning and used it as a pretext for preaching a strict version of Islam. They called for women to cover their faces, denounced music, dancing and Western movies, and even said that the education of girls was un-Islamic. The extremists’ influence and power grew, and eventually, they joined with the Taliban, who had previously not been a threat in Pakistan.
- By the time Malala was eleven, the Taliban had begun a campaign of terror in the Swat Valley. Things got so bad that in 2009 the government ordered an evacuation of Swat to make room for a massive military campaign against the Taliban. It was the beginning of the complicated lives Malala and her family would live as internally displaced people.
- It was almost three months before civilians were allowed to return to Mingora. When they did, things mostly returned to normal. But the army had defeated the Taliban, not destroyed them; Taliban fighters had gone to ground, where they continued carrying out targeted killings from the shadows. Before long, Malala herself became a target. on October 9, 2012, Malala was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban for speaking out on peace and education for girls.
- after the shooting, Malala was moved from hospital to hospital within Pakistan before eventually being airlifted to Birmingham, England. Almost three months later, she was released from the hospital, and her family started a new life there from scratch.
- Malala found herself making a difficult decision – should she continue her advocacy for education for girls? Supportive and inspiring letters from thousands of people around the world convinced her to carry on, especially those from women and girls who thanked her for her work.
- Sisters Zaynab and Sabreen
- when Zaynab was 14 years old and Sabreen was 12, their lives were changed by terrible luck. First, their grandmother suffered a fall and died soon after. Meanwhile, Yemen became increasingly unstable as the government, revolutionaries and terrorist groups all vied for control. By 2012, seemingly indiscriminate bombings had become common.
- Zaynab contacted her mother, who instructed her to make her way to Egypt, where she could stay with extended family while applying for a US visa. There, Zaynab’s luck began to change. In December 2014, just shy of her nineteenth birthday, she received the good news that she had been approved for a US visa. This meant moving to Minneapolis and reuniting with her mother.
- Sabreen wasn’t so lucky. Her US visa application was denied without explanation, and she had to pay for an illegal crossing to Europe. Over a nine-day trip, she and other refugees were transferred from one overcrowded boat to another. The last of the boats even ran out of fuel three hours from land, and the refugees were rescued by a ship sent by the Red Cross. She landed in Italy and was then sent to a refugee camp in the Netherlands. She met a man from Yemen there, and within months the two were engaged. Now married, they live in Belgium. But Sabreen still doesn’t have immigration papers.
- Muzoon grew up in Syria where she had high hopes for education and her future. But then war swallowed up her country in 2011, and the streets were filled with bombings and gunshots. After two years of living in the middle of this violence, Muzoon’s family decided to flee. They drove to the Jordanian border, then walked from there to the Zaatari refugee camp. Their new circumstances were challenging but Muzoon’s primary concern was the disruption to her education. So she breathed a sigh of relief when she found out that there was a school at the Zaatari camp. She began talking to people in the camp, advocating education for girls rather than early marriage. Muzoon had earned a reputation for her advocacy of education. Some were even calling her “the Malala of Syria.” Not only did Muzoon refuse to be defeated by her circumstances – she even found a way to help others.
- Najla was raised in Sinjar, Iraq, in a large family from the Yazidi religious minority. Like many children, she hungered for education from the time she was very young. But what made Najla unique is how hard she was willing to fight for it (when she was 8, her father had to be convinced to allow her to go to school, Najla ran away from home because her father wanted her to quit and focus on learning to be a housewife, her sister’s husband was murdered, neighbor friend’s suicide, Najla’s depression). Then, in 2014, the terrorist group ISIS targeted the Yazidi people for genocide. ISIS was known for destroying villages, kidnapping and abusing women and girls and murdering men. Once again, Najla fled into the Sinjar Mountains, hiding there with her family for eight days. Then they moved to the city of Dohuk in Kurdistan, eventually finding refuge in an unfinished building along with more than 100 other families. They never went back. As a refugee, Najla continued to dream of education and of going to college. She even started teaching other children to read to keep their hope alive. Malala was so impressed with Najla’s inner strength and ability to keep hope alive that when she invited Najla to accompany her to the United Nations General Assembly in 2017
- In Colombia, civil conflict has been raging for more than 40 years, leaving 7.2 million people displaced. María is one of these people. María’s mother & 4 siblings ended up in Cali, one of the largest cities in Colombia. There, they lived in a makeshift camp full of people displaced by the violence taking place throughout the country. Life was hard there. When María was seven, a community organization helped her mother move the family to a house. It was in poor condition, with rain regularly leaking through the roof, but it was an improvement. Her mother also signed María and her siblings up for a weekend theater program that produced a play based on the children’s stories of displacement, called Nobody Can Take Away What We Carry Inside. To this day, María turns to creative expression when life seems like too much to bear. María has moved many times since living in that beat-up house, but to this day she has only ever felt at home in one place – the place in her memories, where she could pick fresh mangoes and run in the fields.
- Marie Claire
- When Marie Claire was just a baby, war broke out in her homeland of the Democratic Republic of Congo, forcing her family to flee for their lives. They became undocumented refugees in neighboring Zambia, but life there was hard and cruel. In school, Marie was insulted, pelted with rocks and spat on by other children. But when she arrived home in tears, her mother would always remind her that she was in charge of her life – if she wanted to achieve her dreams, she needed to stay focused on them and block out the abuse. Then, one evening when Marie Claire was 12, a vigilante mob attacked her home. Her mother was murdered, sacrificing herself to save her children, and her father was stabbed in the head multiple times. Miraculously, he survived. But the family was devastated, and Marie Claire had to drop out of school to care for him as he recovered. When she finally returned to school, it was with a new determination. It had been her mother’s dream to one day see Marie Claire graduate, and with that in mind, Marie Claire threw herself into her studies. Then, when she was 16, her family received news that the United Nations Refugee Agency had accepted their refugee application. It was a process that her mother had started for them many years earlier. Lancaster, Pennsylvania would become their new home. Marie Claire was excited to finish high school in the United States. In June 2016, she became the first in her family to graduate from high school.
- The Rohingya people are Muslims living mainly in western Myanmar, bordering Bangladesh. This makes them a minority religious group in a primarily Buddhist country, and because of this, they’ve been persecuted since the 1960s. Malala spoke out against this disgraceful situation. At a humanitarian conference not long after that, she made the acquaintance of French humanitarian activist Jérôme Jarre. Jarre and others had created the Love Army, which gets youths involved in responding to emergencies worldwide. This includes raising money through social media. The funds allowed the Rohingya to create 4,000 shelters and 80 deep-water wells for themselves. They have also created jobs inside the refugee camps, from translating to construction. One of the people whose work is funded by money raised by the Love Army is Ajida. She, her husband and their three children fled to the camp with only the clothes on their backs after their village was destroyed by the military and police. Ajida built a stove out of clay to cook for her family. She learned this skill from her mother, and when the Love Army found out, they hired her to build more. To date, she’s made more than 2,000 stoves, which the Love Army donates to other refugees.
- As Malala notes, many people expect refugees to feel gratitude toward their host country, and relief at being safe. But leaving behind everything familiar to you means living with emotions that are far from easy to reconcile. These aren’t just stories of survivors who finally reach a better place; they’re also accounts of what is lost and what can never be returned to.