Over the past 6 years, Malala has become one of the world’s most powerful activists. As she continues to use her platform for girls education, she is now using her voice to give refugees a chance to share their stories in her new book We Are Displaced and Seventeen got the chance to sit down with her and hear about her life firsthand.
Here’s everything you need to know about Malala and her new book…
She’s been traveling around meeting refugees for years.
“Since I started my activism, which was around 6 years ago, I have been to many refugee camps. The first one was in Jordan, where I met Syrian refugee children. I have been to refugee camps in Kenya, Rwanda, Iraq, meeting refugee girls around the world, just seeing how refugees are presented to us through the news. They just show these people in such a negative way,” she told Seventeen. “I would go and talk to these brave and courageous young girls and I say, ‘this is so disappointing that people do not know about refugees.’ We often hear about refugees, but we never hear from them. It was important to hear from them, that’s why I decided to write this book. I think also it’s also important because of the time we are in and how we see these countries are closing their borders and building walls, so I think it’s just a reminder to people to just hear from refugees.”
She didn’t feel displaced until she lived in England.
“My family and millions of people in Swat Valley became internally displaced in 2009 and we were out of our houses for 3 months. But, when we were leaving our houses, we did not know if we would be able to come back. You hear fighting, you hear bullets going above your rooftop, and you knew that staying there was not safe. Otherwise, you could lose your life. But then when we moved to the UK. I was recovering from the trauma and I was receiving treatment and everything was just so new and so different. Becoming displaced in Pakistan was hard, but slightly easier because the language was the same, the culture was the same, and we have this tradition of hospitality, so people were welcoming us. When you come to a completely different country, it is hard because the culture is new, the way that people talk and gossip and laugh and their daily conversation is quite different. But then, I got used to it and I’ve been in the UK for 6 years now. I’m not officially a refugee, we’re residents, but, in a way, we do feel displaced.”
She recently went back to Pakistan for the first time.
“That was the highlight of 2018. I went home and saw my friends, my school teachers, my neighbors, my family members, everyone. We met like hundreds of people there and it was beautiful to see our home again. They had still kept [the house] as it was before and my school trophies, books, my bed cover, everything was still there and it was just so beautiful to see that,” she told Seventeen. “In a way, it was a sense of completion. I always felt like there was something missing in my life.”
She believes it is important for girls to hear all kinds of stories.
“I wanted a variety of stories [in my book]. I wanted people to know a Syrian refugee girl. I wanted people to know a Columbian refugee girl. A girl from Guatemala, who had no choice, became an orphan, and had to leave her country for her own safety. I wanted people to know of girls in Yemen, of girls in Uganda, and also the people who welcomed them. I also included Farah’s story from Uganda, who is now the CEO of Malala Fund, because oftentimes when you’re talking about refugees, they are like hopeless kind of stories. I wanted to people to know that these refugees have also become successful and have served at the government and started charities. They have empowered people and they’re doing amazing work, so we also need to look at it from that angle as well.”
She believes that not enough Latin American stories are being shared.
“I wanted to include stories from Latin America because when people talk about refugees, it usually is focused on Syrian refugees and it’s associated with wars and terrorism. But there are also gangs and other forms of conflicts that are happening that people do not often count. In Latin America, there are these crises happening in so many countries and just hearing this girl’s story, crossing the border, a 15-year-old girl [Analisa] who has lost her parents, it’s not an easy thing. This requires courage and bravery. And this tells you that her life was at risk and she did not have a future there and everybody should have the right to a bright future. This region, needs more attention and more support from people around the world and also from the donor countries as well to support these girls’ education who are missing out on school because they’re losing their houses or losing their schools.”
She says education should come first for every young activist.
“I am missing a week from school right now. In Oxford, the first week is exams week, so I have taken my exams earlier before I came here. It is important that you focus on your own education and once I go to university, I’m completely focused on my studies. For girls who are dedicated and enthusiastic about bringing a change to their society in the world, it’s important that, at the same time, they also nurture and focus on building themselves. The world that you want to create will have a greater impact if we educate and empower and equip ourselves with more knowledge and skills.
She believes everyone should have a mentor.
“Having a few mentors is also important. Mentors can be your teachers, could be your parents, could be your friends or people you find inspiration in. It is good to have somebody and it’s always good to ask if you need help. Never hesitate in that.”
She wants the younger generation to believe in themselves.
“I always tell young people to believe in themselves. It means to be confident and to believe that what you say matters. When I’m talking about education, I believe that educating girls can help greater outcomes. It helps us build economies. If we educate all girls, it adds over $30 trillion to the world economy, it helps us reduce poverty, tackle climate change. I believe in this cause and there’s data out there that supports this. I’ve believed in it since I was 10. I would be in a gathering where there would be people, mostly men, but I had this confidence that my voice mattered. No matter how old I was, my voice was important. It would be good if we all had friends who encouraged us, who support us, but you should stand up and support yourself.”
She knows the younger generation will make a change.
“I have hope when I look at the younger generation, because they are interested in creating a sustainable world. They want to see change. They want to challenge the status quo. They want to challenge leaders. I hope that, especially young readers, will read this book and get inspired by these amazing stories of refugee girls and women. I hope they also inform themselves and then act [on it]. They should realize that whatever they do, whether it’s a small act of supporting a refugee in your local community or doing a campaign in your school or your community, all these things do matter and it can bring you that change that we all want to see, which is a welcoming, open, society that is kind and compassionate towards everyone.”
“The proceeds from this book go to our work, the Malala Fund, where we support refugee girls education. When people buy this book, they should know they’re already helping a refugee girl. I think that’s the start.”
She’s just as unsure about the future as you are.
“I’m not sure what I’m doing in the future, [writing] more books or not. I think I’m currently focused on university. I have a lot of essays to write.”