16-Year-Old Pakistani Activist Receives Harvard Humanitarian Award

Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai accepted the Harvard Foundation’s Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian Award on Friday to a nearly 1,000 person standing ovation in Sanders Theater.

The 16-year-old Yousafzai, who gained international attention as a supporter of women’s education, roused the audience through her speech.

“We are not here to make a long list of issues we are facing,” Yousafzai said. “We are here to find the solution…and it is simple: education, education, education.”

Yousafzai began advocating for gender equality in education in 2008. Her activism led to reprisals from the Taliban, which attempted to assassinate her 2012. The international media followed her recovery, and Yousafazi continued to advocate for women undeterred by the Taliban.

“I want every girl, every child, to be educated,” Yousafazi famously said after the assassination attempt.

“These powerful words resonated with people around the world, with girls and boys, men and women,” said S. Allen Counter, director of the Harvard Foundation. “A new voice for gender equality was born.”

During the award ceremony, Yousafzai discussed women’s loss of freedom and the destruction of schools following the Taliban takeover of the Swat Valley, the region in Pakistan her family calls home.

“At that time, we did not keep silent,” she said. “We raised our voice—we raised our voice for the right of education.”

She also spoke of the U.N. campaign launched in her name at a question and answer session with reporters before the event. Yousafzai said she would not back down from advocacy because of the assassination attempt.

“Why should I wait for someone else?” she asked. “Why don’t I take a step forward? If I’m thinking that every girl should go to school and if I’m thinking about children who are suffering from child labor, I must continue my campaign for the education of girls and boys.”

Yousafzai also echoed words from a previous speech in July she delivered before the United Nations.

“Instead of sending guns, send pens. Instead of sending tanks, send textbooks. Instead of sending soldiers, send teacher,” she said.

During the ceremony the Harvard Foundation also recognized Junaid Khan with the Award of Appreciation for the role he played as a doctor in saving Yousafzai’s life after the assassination attempt.

“I believe that God saved my life. People’s prayers saved my life. And of course, Colonel Khan saved my life,” Yousafzai said.

Previous recipients of the Humanitarian Award include actor James Earl Jones, AIDS researcher David Ho, and Bishop Desmond Tutu.

The humanitarian award is given annually and honors the life and work of Reverend Peter J. Gomes, the longtime Memorial Church minister who died in 2011.

—Staff writer David B. Song can be reached at songdavidb@gmail.com.

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