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Guest Blog Post by Leah Ujda
In my pre-Design Concepts work life, I was a
librarian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. One of my favorite
experiences there was serving multiple years on the book selection
committee for Go Big Read, the campus-wide common book program.
by the Office of the Chancellor in partnership with the Center for First-Year Experience, and many other units of the university,
the goal of Go Big Read is to “engage members of the campus community
and beyond in a shared, academically focused reading experience.” This
fall, our very own Smarty Pants Book Club joined thousands of others in
the Madison community in reading “I Am Malala” by Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai.
Am Malala” is the true story of a girl in Pakistan who, along with her
father, is a vocal advocate for girls’ right to an education in spite of
the restrictions imposed by the Taliban. Malala’s father is a school
owner who encouraged her to speak out, write and attend school from an
early age. As a young student her story caught the attention of Western
journalists and media. Malala’s (then anonymous) blog detailing daily
life under the Taliban was picked up by the BBC when she was 11 years
old and she was profiled in the New York Times in 2009. She became quite
well known both internationally and in her home in the Swat Valley in
Pakistan, and her outspoken views gained the attention of the Taliban.
In October 2012, Malala was shot at point blank range by masked Taliban
soldiers while riding the bus home from school.
One of the things
we talked a lot about at book club was Malala’s perception of herself
and her life – as Chad put it, “until she was shot in the head she
didn’t think she was particularly incendiary or special.” To the members
of our book club – educated, employed, comfortable Americans – Malala
and the people in her village often seemed to be dealing with life close
to the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy. Their basic safety and security
was not a given. Regardless of the dangerous environment she and her
family lived in, Malala wrote about love, respect, independence and
By reading the same book and coming together to talk about it, we take an individual activity and make it social.
to this idea of perception, we talked a bit about Malala’s idealism and
optimism. At the risk of being cynical and jaded, we wondered how much
of her story and the presentation of it was coached. Christina Lamb, an
award-winning British journalist, co-wrote the book with Malala and book
club members agreed that it was very obvious that this story was being
presented to a Western audience. Ultimately, our discussion wound around
to the conclusion that it really didn’t matter how coached, edited or
polished the story may have been. Stories like Malala’s pull people out
of blindness and illustrate the powerful and destructive nature of
There were moments in the book that revealed how broken
the political system of Pakistan under the Taliban really is. For
example, after she was shot Malala was transported to a hospital in
England for treatment and it took two weeks for Malala’s family to gain
the necessary paperwork to join her there. Corin noted that a system
that prioritizes political favors and self-interest over the family of a
critically wounded 15-year-old girl has stepped completely outside of
human empathy. But this is not a “Pakistan thing” or even a “Taliban
thing.” It is a human thing. Corruption can thrive anywhere with right
set of circumstances, timing and luck.
We wrapped up our
discussion with some reflection on common reading programs such as Go
Big Read and the experience of participating in a book club. By reading
the same book and coming together to talk about it, we take an
individual activity and make it social. Corin participated in a
campus-wide common book program during her freshman year at Virginia
Tech, and both Roshelle and I previously took part in the Chicago Public
Library’s “One City, One Book” initiative. Even our little office book
club provides a forum for shared experiences that foster connections
among people and push us to pick up books we might not have otherwise
selected. All of us agreed that having a shared experience at the same
time is rare and precious. “I Am Malala” filled the Smarty Pants Book
Club with feelings of gratitude and connection just in time for the
holiday season… and it made us feel a lot smarter while we watch
Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony
|From left to right, Malala’s two brothers, Mother, and Father|
Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi received the Nobel Peace Prize during an award ceremony in Oslo, Norway on December 10th. Malala accepted the Nobel Peace Prize medal and diploma while her family watched on with pride and clear emotion on their faces as she became the youngest recipient ever of a Nobel Prize.
Malala also brought 5 honored guests to the award ceremony that she mentions in her acceptance speech. Two of the young women, Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz, were classmates of Malala’s. Shazia and Kainat were both shot during the 2012 Taliban attack that nearly ended Malala’s life.
|From left to right, Amina Yusuf, Kainat Soomro, Shazia Ramzan,
Malala Yousafzai, Mazon Almellahan, and Kainat Riaz.
The three other young women Malala brought as guests are all activists. Kainat Soomro is a young Pakistani woman who continues to fight for justice after a brutal sexual assault that took place when she was only 13 years old. Mazon Almellehan is a 16 year old education advocate and Syrian refugee. Malala’s last guest is Amina Yusuf. Amina is a 17 year old Nigerian girl who mentors young girls in Northern Nigeria.
Malala ended her speech with this important message:
Click here to read the rest of Malala’s Nobel Lecture
Malala’s Full Acceptance Speech:
Malala’s school uniform to go on display
The Nobel Peace Prize Exhibition 2014-Malala and Kailash opens this Friday at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo. The Exhibition tells the story of Malala and Kailash’s fight for children’s rights. Malala has recorded a personal video message and she provided the Nobel Peace Center with family photos of her life in Swat Valley that will be displayed at the exhibit. However, the most shocking part of the exhibit without a doubt will be the display of Malala’s blood stain school uniform from the day she was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban. The uniform will be on display at Malala’s own request.
In an interview for the exhibition Malala explained why she requested her uniform be displayed, “My school uniform is very important to me because when I was going to school I would wear it, the day I was attacked I was wearing this uniform. I was fighting for my right to go to school..to get education. Wearing a uniform made me feel that yes, I am a student. It is an important part of my life, now I want to show it to children, to people all around the world. This is my right, it is the right of every child, to go to school. This should not be neglected.”
Malala’s uniform has been kept by Malala’s family ever since the assassination attempt in October 2012. The executive director of the of the Nobel Peace Center, Bente Erichsen, said that “Malala’s blood-stained uniform is a strong and heartbreaking symbol of the forces many girls are fighting for the right to go to school. We are grateful that Malala has chosen to show it to the public in our exhibition.”
The exhibition will be free and open to the public from December 12th till August 31st, 2015. Below are pictures of the Nobel Peace Prize Exhibit team displaying Malala’s uniform and Malala’s explanation of why she requested that her uniform be on display.
Using Our Stories for a Cause: UW-Madison Students Speak Out
House of Representatives passes Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act
Last week the United States House of Representatives passed the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act. The act encourages the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development to continue to support Pakistani education initiatives, especially those for women. The act would also expand the number of scholarships available to Pakistani women under the Merit and Needs-Based Scholarship Program. The Act was named after Malala Yousafzai in honor of all of the hurdles she has overcome in her life to become the more prevalent education activist in the world.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, said that it was imperative to promote women’s education in developing countries that limit women’s rights. Ros-Lehtinen said, “we know that access to education is a game changer for any society. A society in which women have unfettered access to the education system expands the horizons not just for the girls and the women involved, but for everyone in their community and their nation.”
The next step for the act to become a bill is for it to be passed in the Senate. We will keep you updated on the Act’s status.
Breaking Stereotypes: Women in Islam
The Go Big Read book, “I Am Malala” has spurred many conversations on campus about education, women, and Islam. If an individual only watched mainstream “breaking” news they may falsely associate Islam with the Taliban, terrorism, or oppression. However, “I Am Malala” has sparked a different dialogue on campus. A conversation that focuses on strong Muslim girls who value education, whether it is Malala who had to overcome unimaginable barriers, or Shiza who has used her education and power to help others. Even though conversations have been started, many stereotypes still exist about Islam on our own campus.
Naman Siad, UW Madison senior and President of the Muslim Students Association, understands what it is like to have her identity questioned and have false stereotypes applied to her. In her Badger Herald article she says, “My scarf has often been an object of conversation, often invoking questions about “Where I am really from,” and “How is my English so fluent.” My answers always shocked people when I said I was from Madison and that my English better be fluent as it was my first language. I would often be frustrated with these types of situations. While my fellow classmates were never questioned on their American identity, I would often struggle to “prove” myself.”
Naman and the Muslim Students Association realize that the campus conversations about “I Am Malala” are an opportunity to break down stereotypes and false assumptions in the student body. This Friday students and community members have an opportunity to be a part of a conversation surrounding women in Islam.
The Muslim Students Association is holding a panel event tackling the misconceptions of Women in Islam and showcasing a positive image of successful Muslim Women across America! The inspirational panel will talk about the role of Muslim Women from three different perspectives. The event is at 7 pm Friday, Nov. 21st, in Sterling Hall Rm. 1310.
If you want to read more of Naman’s article you can find it here: “I Am Malala” provokes necessary discussion of Islam on campus
Cold Weather Blues? Curl up with a book!
In the name of honor: a memoir by Mukhtar Mai with Marie-Therese Cuny; translated by Lind Coverdale; foreword by Nicholas D. Kristof
Embattled Ideologies: I am Malala and the Question of Women’s Education in South Asia Event Today
The UW Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions is hosting an expert panel today from 4:00-6:00 pm in the Sheldon Lubar Faculty Commons, Room 7200, in the UW Law School.
The event brings together four expert scholars on Islam and Education to discuss the challenging and complex questions surrounding women’s education in tribal Pakistan, the historical encounter of Islam and modernity, and the cultural problematics of international aid.
If you are interested in a deeper intellectual conversation surrounding these issues you will not want to miss this event!
Shiza Shahid’s keynote talk is now available online!
People of all ages and backgrounds anxiously waited in line Monday night for the chance to hear Shiza Shahid speak about her experiences with Malala and her background as an activist. Varsity Hall quickly reached capacity, but auditorium doors were opened so that those who could not fit could still see and hear Shiza and over 700 viewers from home watched the live steam of her speech.
Shiza’s speech left the audience captivated, whether it was from the emotional videos she shared, or her own personal stories of triumph and heartbreak. The crowd was taken on a journey of this inspirational young woman’s life and when her story was complete she left the crowd with this parting advice, “We [all] have our struggles. We [all] have our fears, By
saying ‘I am Malala,’ we promise to try and be stronger than those
fears, than whatever is holding us back. I want you to remember, you are
Malala.” The crowd erupted into applause and gave Shiza a well deserved standing ovation.
If you were busy Monday night or even just want to
experience the talk again it is now available online, posted as a link below. A
captioned version will be available next week and I will be placing it
on this blog when it is ready.