Malala Yousafzai smiles on her way to Edgbaston High School for Girls in central England. (Reuters)
London, March 20: Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl whom the Taliban very nearly assassinated in October last year, has made such a remarkable recovery from surgery that she was able to walk to her new school in Birmingham yesterday.
She called it “the most important day of my life”.
She carried a pretty pink rucksack and proudly wore school uniform as she walked with her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, looking like any other pupil at the Edgbaston High School for Girls. This is academically a high-achieving school that was established in 1876.
“I am excited that today I have achieved my dream of going back to school,” said Malala, who was targeted by the Taliban at her home in the Swat Valley for demanding universal education for girls. “I want all girls in the world to have this basic opportunity,” she added.
The bittersweet truth is her old life is gone and from now on, it is the life of an exile. Back in Pakistan, when the Taliban learnt that she wasn’t dead, it threatened to return and finish the job.
“I miss my classmates from Pakistan very much but I am looking forward to meeting my teachers and making new friends here in Birmingham,” she said.
One subject in which she is likely to excel is essay writing because she has been a regular BBC blogger since the age of 11.
Unable to cope with her arguments, a Taliban gunman singled her out as she was travelling in a bus with her school friends on October 12 and shot her more or less at point-blank range.
The doctors in Pakistan did a good job in removing the bullet that grazed her brain but the complicated surgery was done at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. Here, surgeons stabilised her condition, and last month, a titanium plate was fitted to cover a hole in her skull during a five-hour operation. They also inserted an implant to restore hearing on her left side.
That she has been able to return virtually from the dead — and go to school — must count as a near-miracle of modern times.
In a pooled interview yesterday, she said: “I can even walk, I can even run.” To make the point, TV news reports last night had footage of the unconscious and heavily bandaged Malala being rushed into hospital on a stretcher on the day she was shot.
Back in her home village of Mingore in the Swat Valley, she and her classmates had been advised not to wear school uniforms, which the Taliban considered a provocative form of dressing.
Malala displayed obvious pleasure in wearing her school uniform yesterday. “I am so proud to wear the uniform because it proves I am a student and that I am living my life and learning,” she said.
The Pakistan government has undertaken to foot the bill for her hospital stay and the annual school fees of £10,000 (Rs 8.2 lakh). Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister and current UN special envoy for global education, hailed “a great day for Malala, for her family — and for the cause of education worldwide.
“By her courage, Malala shows that nothing — not even bullets, intimidation or death threats — can stand in the way of the right of every girl to an education. I wish Malala and her family well as her courageous recovery continues”. At her new school, Malala has joined the girls in year 9 and will be studying a full curriculum in preparation for selecting her subjects for GCSEs.
“She wants to be a normal teenage girl and to have the support of other girls around,” said Edgbaston head teacher Ruth Weeks. “Talking to her, I know that’s something she missed during her time in hospital.”
Although Malala has said she would like to study politics and law, the immediate concern will be to make the right choices at “school dinners” (dinner here means lunch).
Yesterday, for example, the main course was pork casserole though the vegetarian option was Marconi Cheese.
Today shouldn’t be a problem. Chicken Piri Piri is the main course with veggie chilli for non-meat eaters. Pudding is either apple pie or scones and jam.
Lunch costs parents an extra £176-a-term (Rs 14,432) on top of term fees.
Edgbaston High School describes itself as Birmingham’s oldest independent school for girls.
“Conveniently located in a leafy suburb of Edgbaston with close access to the city, we provide a 21st century education based on traditional values,” the school says. “Our aim is to provide the highest quality of education for girls at every stage of their development.”
What Malala wanted back in Pakistan was much more modest – just the right to go to school. “I think all the children should go to school, it’s their right, it’s their basic right,” Malala said yesterday.