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Growing Up in School - Chapter 2 I Am Malala

"MY MOTHER STARTED school when she was six and stopped the same term. She was unusual in the village as she had a father and brothers who encouraged her to go to school. She was the only girl in a class of boys. She carried her bag of books proudly into school and claims she was brighter than the boys. But every day she would leave behind her girl cousins playing at home and she envied them. There seemed no point in going to school just to end up cooking, cleaning and bringing up children, so one day she sold her books for nine annas, spent the money on boiled sweets and never went back. Her father said nothing. She says he didn’t even notice, as he would set off early every morning after a breakfast of cornbread and cream, his German pistol strapped under his arm, and spend his days busy with local politics or resolving feuds. Besides he had seven other children to think about.............

Malala tells that her father's dream was to open his own school. But financial hardships made it harder for him to live his dream. Her father believed that nothing was more important than knowledge.

Malala adds: Education had been a great gift for her father, who blames Pakistan's lack of
education for all of its problems.

"Ignorance allowed politicians to fool people and bad administrators to be re-elected."

He has always harped upon the need for schooling for everyone, be it rich or poor, boys or girls.

Her grandfather wanted his youngest son to be a doctor  and contribute to the household income. Her father’s elder was working as a teacher at a local school and staying with Malala's grandfather,

When her father was offered a place at Jehanzeb College, the leading advanced
education institution in Swat, her grandfather refused to pay for his living expenses. Since there is nothing like student loans in Pakistan, Malala's father needed money to live on.

But with no money to pay for his expenses, her father would often cry in frustration. So he had to compromise with his career and teach in a local school, where his elder brother was a teacher. Fortunately, a relative Nasir Pacha met him one day and came to know about Malal's father's opportunity to study in Jehanzeb College. He offered him to stay in his house in Spal Badi - a romantic & beautiful place in the mountains.

In Spal Badi, Malala's father learned that women were in a better condition than in his own village and had greater freedom.

It was here that he met Akbar Khan, who was a man of wisdom without much education. Akbar Khan lent him money for higher education, though he himself could not go for higher studies. Her father would often speak of the kindness of Akbar Khan and Nasir Pacha, saying that "if you help someone in need you might also receive unexpected aid."

At this time, important events were unfolding in Pakistani politics. Benazir Bhutto was elected prime minister of the country, and dictator General Zia was killed in a plane crash, which is alleged to be caused by a bomb placed in a crate of mangoes.
It was at this time that student organizations became active in Pakistan, and Malala's father was chosen as the general secretary of Pakhtoon Students Federation (PSF) for his oratorical and vocal skills.

PSF demanded equal rights for Pakhtoons. Ziauddin Yousafzai, Malala's father, could not become PSF president as he did not have a rich background.

It was then that Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses was released, which was considered blasphemous by Muslims, as it was a parody on the Proper Muhammad. Clerics berated the book as offensive and protested its release.  Many students argued that the book should be banned and fatwa issued against Rushdie.

Ziauddin also believed that the book was against Prophet Muhammad but he was also a proponent of the freedom of speech.

He suggested fellow students to read the book and respond to Salman Rushdie with "our own book." In a loud voice, he asked other students, ‘Is Islam such a weak religion that it cannot tolerate a book written against it? Not my Islam!’

After graduating from Jehanzeb, Ziauddin worked as an English teacher in a well-known private college. But since he was getting merely 1,600 rupees per month and could not contribute to his father's household, Malala's grandfather was not happy with him.

So he decided to open his own school, where there was freedom of speech and expression and opportunities for sharing independent thought, along with his friend Naeem, who shared the same thought as him. Naeem lost his job following a dispute with the college
administration, which was very strict and against freedom of speech and expression.

Both invested their life's savings of 60,000 rupees and borrowed 30,000 rupees
to invest in a school building. Unfortunately the demand for English tuition wasn't much those days. Moreover, Naeem wasn't too happy about Ziauddin's involvement in political discussions after college in their own school. The two friends-turned business partners were finding it difficult to adjust to each other's lifestyle. Unfortunately, they had to part ways after three months when they were no longer on talking terms to each other.

Ziauddin gave Naeem his share from the school and partnered with another of his friend, Hidayatullah. The school was named Kushal School after the name of Ziauddin's heroes -Khushal Khan Khattak, who was a warrior poet from Akora and had tried to unify different  Pashtun tribes against the Mughals in the 17th century.

The entrance was designed and engraved with a motto: "WE ARE COMMITTED TO BUILD FOR

He always wanted his children to derive inspiration from Khattak, but with pens, not swords. He would always say that he wanted Pashtuns to unite against ignorance. But this was not enough to convince people in the village, and only 3 students got enrolled for the school.

Worse was in store for him. He was under debt and with just 3 students, they could not get the funds to equip the school.

When Ziauddin went to get the school registered, he had to wait for hours and when his turn finally came, there were more surprises in store for him.

One official mocked at him, saying, ‘How many teachers do you have? Three! Your teachers are not trained. Everyone thinks they can open a school just like that!’

Everyone else in the room started ridiculing him. It was aptly clear that the superintendent was indirectly asking for bribe.

Pashtuns never pay a bribe nor can they stand anyone belittling or ridiculing them.

Ziauddin immediately turned on the superintendent with all the strength of years of
debating, and asked ‘Why are you asking all these questions? Am I in an office or am I in a
police station or a court? Am I a criminal?’

In order to vociferously oppose bribe and corruption, Ziauddin joined Swat Association of Private Schools, and quickly became vice president.

He would often be vocal against bribe. He would tell members of the group, who were school principals, "Running a school is not a crime. Why should you be
paying bribes? You are not running brothels; you are educating children! Government officials are not your bosses; they are your servants. They are taking salaries and have to serve
you. You are the ones educating their children.’

But his promotion as the president of the group did not bring him any fortune. Ziauddin and Hidayatullah did not even have money to pay the local grocery store.

To boost their income, they started a tuck shop, wherein they sold snacks to school children. He would buy maize and make pop corns for children to buy.

Hidayatullah says, ‘I would get very depressed and sometimes collapse seeing the problems all around us,  but when Ziauddin is in a crisis he becomes strong and his spirits high.’
Ziauddin wanted to do it big, so he decided to advertise in television. Hidayatullah laughed at the idea, saying that they themselves did not even have a TV, where they would watch the ad.

Meanwhile, Ziauddin left for his village for a few days. The reason was that he was getting married, but he did not inform any of his friends in Mingora about the wedding, as he did not have enough resources to entertain them. Muslim wedding celebrations last for days together.  Ziauddin could attend only the last day ceremony of his own marriage!!!

After the marriage, Ziauddin left for Mingora, leaving his newly wed bride with his father. But Malala's grandfather wasn't too happy about it either - he would often complain about the lack of resources and financial support from Ziauddin. He only made Malala's mother's life miserable.

Finally, one day Malala's mother shifted to Mingora to be with her husband Ziauddin. But Hidyatullah wasn't too happy about it. He complained but Ziauddin told him that his wife would clean their clothes and make food for them.

Malala's mother was happy to be with her husband in a place that was considered modern compared to Swat.

‘Ziauddin was a family man and they were unusually close,’ said Hidayatullah. ‘While most of us
can’t live with our wives, he couldn’t be without his.’

Malala's mother was pregnant with her first child within a few months. Unfortunately, their first child was stillborn. Ziauddin says, ‘I think there was some problem with hygiene in that muddy place. I
assumed women could give birth without going to hospital, as my mother and my sisters had in the
village. My mother gave birth to ten children in this way.’

Unfortunately, the city was hit by flash floods and the school, furniture, and all their belongings were destroyed. There was no where to sleep or eat. It tool them a week to clear up all the debris.

Amidst all the troubles and tribulations, Malala was born on August 14, 1997. By the time Malala was born, the school had expanded to 5 teachers and 100 children.

Malala and her family used to drink green tea, as they could not afford milk. Her father tells that even before Malala could talk she would toddle into different classes and talk like a teacher.Finally, the two friends and business partners parted ways, and Hidyatullah left to start a separate school.

Soon, 9/11 happened, and the life of the local people was changed forever, says Malala, who was merely four and a half year old then.


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