Malala flies in for award – and back in time for school
SHE almost lost her life with a bullet through the head fighting for her right to go to school.
So Malala Yousafzai, the teenage girl who was shot by the Taliban, was determined not to miss a minute of education as she flew into Dublin to receive a prestigious Amnesty award from Bono last night.
The whole star-studded event at the Mansion House was orchestrated so she could fly into Dublin after school, pick up the gong from Bono, and be back in her bed in Birmingham and up in time for school again this morning.
"I've written a short speech, because I had to finish my homework," she said with a glint in her eye as she received the Ambassador of Conscience Award.
Calypso King Harry Belafonte was also there to receive the same award.
With Malala at his side, Bono said: "The Edge has been trying to help her with her maths, but she doesn't really need it."
Malala might have felt that she had achieved superstar status when she saw Bono at her shoulder.
But she is not a girl who will ever be upstaged by Bono, the Edge, ex-Pink Floyd star Roger Waters, Petula Clark, or the bevy of politicians and diplomats who gathered at the Mansion House.
The 16-year-old, who cheated death by inches when a bullet went through her head last October, spoke with the stirring and insistent composure of an elder stateswoman – a worthy woman to walk in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi, both previous recipients of the prize.
As Bono melted away, those present felt a ripple of greatness surge across the room as the girl took the stage. It was the same feeling that those who saw Martin Luther King and Mahatmah Gandhi must have felt.
Malala is not so much a superstar as a superpower.
Having taken on the ferocious might of the Taliban and insisted on the right of girls to an education, she has succeeded where the massed armies of the US and Britain have failed.
The BBC's Orla Guerin, who compered the event, said parents were sending their girls to school as a result of Malala's relentless campaigning.
Malala told the Mansion House crowd: "I am truly honoured and would like to take the opportunity to remind everyone that there are many millions of children like me across the world who fight every single day for their right to go to school.
"The only solution is education, education, education. With this powerful weapon we can end violence against women, terrorism and child labour. The only tools needed are a pen and a book."
Pink Floyd's Roger Waters described Malala as "a true hero of our time". On October 9 last year, Taliban fighters boarded her school bus and shot her at point-blank range. One bullet lodged in her skull. Malala was rushed to hospital where Pakistani surgeons saved her life. She was later airlifted to the UK for specialist brain surgery.
Just weeks ago she received the Tipperary International Peace Award. Last night's award was inspired by the Seamus Heaney poem, 'From the Republic of Conscience', which was written specially for Amnesty International. The Nobel Laureate, who died last month, had been due to read at last night's event. His family was represented by his daughter Catherine Ann.
The Iranian writer Azar Nafisi said last night Heaney had perhaps captured the spirit of Malala with the opening of his great poem, 'Digging': "Between my finger and my thumb/The squat pen rests; snug as a gun."
Singer Harry Belafonte was also honoured for his work on human rights and social justice. Roger Waters presented the King of Calypso with the honour.
By Kim Bielenberg