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Carol Anne Costa: Malala Keeps Her Eye on the Real Prize

Thursday, October 17, 2013


Malala Yousafzai has taken her life in her hands time and time again to speak out in favor of education for Pakistani women.

In an attempt to regain some sanity, I found it necessary to avert my eyes from the utter foolishness taking place in Washington. The shutdown, the grandstanding, rebel yells, and the absolute embarrassment embodied in some of the extremists of our nation's elected is really becoming too much to bear. The icing on the cake came Sunday when the irrelevant Sarah Palin (I really can't wait for John McCain to come clean on that one) teamed up with the megalomaniac Ted Cruz to “lead” or abscond with a rally using the WWII Memorial as a backdrop and veterans as props for a self-serving media opportunity. The “hijacking” of this veterans event was also soundly criticized by the planners themselves. The hubris seeping from every pore of these two clowns is repulsive. With that, I needed to consider good things, positive things, rays of hope, as I was swimming over my head laboring to grasp a buoy of promise. And, there she was...Malala.

It was a year ago when Malala Yousafzai was hunted down on her school bus and shot in the head by the Taliban. She along with 2 other school girls on the bus, who were also shot, survived the vicious and targeted attack, their small bodies insulted by the bullets of a faction of oppressive men who believe the education of girls is an obscenity. In a New York Times article that ran shortly after the attack, a Taliban spokesperson named Ehsanullah Ehsan clearly put forth the reasons for their action. He confirimed by phone that Ms. Yousafzai had been the target, calling her crusade for education rights an “obscenity.” He continued, “She has become a symbol of Western culture in the area; she was openly propagating it.” He indicated if she were to survive militants would certainly try to kill her again. “Let this be a lesson.” said Ehsan. The Taliban took full credit for the shooting and celebrated it as a way to dissuade Pakistani girls from seeking out education. I remember the story being so shocking to me as an American woman, in spite of the struggles we have endured in our country to achieve equality. The boldness and brutality of the attack created for me an immediate connection to this young girl.

Who is Malala...

At the time of the attack, all I knew of Malala was as it was portrayed in the media. She was introduced to America as a young girl who was an outspoken advocate for the education of girls in Pakistan. She wanted to be a doctor someday. She could be any of the young girls in my life; spirited, freethinking, and brave. In the wake of the shooting, I would periodically check her medical progress via the internet. Her survival meant a great deal to me, as it stuck a thumb in the eye of those who use violence and intimidation to achieve an end. But what this young girl became in the course of her public journey is nothing short of miraculous. She emerged from the 4-month hospital stay, her mission emboldened, saying, "I want to serve the people. I want every girl, every child, to be educated." She also attributed her survival to the “prayers of many”. The depth of this child’s passion and courage is remarkable. It should be a lesson to all who desire to serve and lead. Malala Yousafzai is a modern day marvel. She is what we should point to as an example of dignity, bravery and mission. One of my personal heroines is the Venerable Catherine McAuley, the Foundress of the Sisters of Mercy. She often stated, “No work of charity can be more productive of good to society than the careful instruction of young women.” For me, Malala is cut from the same cloth; ready willing and able to keep her eye on the real prize...the meaningful, substantive and powerful education of women.  

Speaking Truth to Power

We live in an age of quick fixes, self promotion, and being famous for fame's sake. What Malala proved and continues to prove is that conviction, mission, and purpose can drive a message, transcend violence and move multitudes of people. In a CNN interview she replied to a reporter's query about why she raised her voice to which she responded, "I shall raise my voice. If I didn't do it, who would? Girls who are scared should fight their fear.” She continued, "Don't sit in your bedrooms. God will ask you on the day of judgment, 'Where were you when your people were asking you ... when your school fellows were asking you and when your school was asking you ...'Why I am being blown up?'” During her recent visit to the United States, she challenged President Obama’s use of drones in The Oval Office, to his face. "Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact," she bluntly told the American President. She recently left Jon Stewart of The Daily Show speechless, and that is certainly tough to do. CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, a URI graduate, put together a fantastic package, called "The Bravest Girl in the World”. It provides an inspiring look at this amazing young woman. As Malala continues her work, I shall remain in tune, for she exhibits incredible courage and she must be held up as a role model for not only for our girls, our daughters, our granddaughters, and our nieces. She is a shining example of leadership, which so many political officials who lack conviction and political will should emulate.

I cannot tell a lie. I was pulling very hard for her to win the Nobel Peace Prize. But then I realized she has her eye on the real prize, which is not fame, or notoriety. It is a pressing mission to deliver true change to the girls of Pakistan and the world. Thank you, Malala, for your rays of hope and your true bravery. For every girl you have and will impact and inspire I say, thank you.


Carol Costa is a public relations and community outreach specialist; she has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience. She previously served in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also enjoyed a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently a public housing manager for the Johnston Housing Authority. Her work has been published in several local outlets including GoLocal, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.


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