When Pakistani teen activist, Malala Yousafzai, celebrated her 16th birthday at the United Nations and demanded education for all children from the world leaders, she was not alone in her endeavour.
Seven girls from across the world, who had done their share for children’s education, were supporting her with both word and gesture.
And when Malala told the gathering that “let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One teacher, one book, one pen, can change the world,” they all agreed.
The girls were awarded the UN special envoy for global education’s youth courage award as part of the Malala Day celebrations.
The girls, two Indians among them, were awarded for their courage to promote the cause of education and dignity of women.
The Indian girls are 21-year-old Ashwini from Bangalore and 15-year-old Razia from Uttar Pradesh.
Ashwini was awarded for fighting against odds to study and then using her education to campaign for the right to education for children with disabilities.
Visually impaired, Ashwini was brought up in a poor village in Karnataka and fought circumstances to complete her graduation. She overcame the odds, achieved great grades and got an excellent job with an IT firm. However, she gave it all up to campaign for other children with disabilities.
Ashwini now works for Leonard Cheshire Disability, a Bangalore-based NGO.
Razia, a former child labourer who stitched footballs for a living, struggled against the odds and succeeded in passing Class 11. She then helped stop the exploitation of 48 child labourers and made sure that they were enrolled in school.
The success stories were not only limited to India. Urmila, 22, of Nepal was awarded for her struggle in the field of girls’ education.
Her parents sold her as a kamalari or a child servant when she was just six. She remained trapped for 12 years before she discovered the kamalari system was illegal and was allowed to visit her family again.
Urmila never went back. Instead, she set up Kamalari Girls’ Freedom Forum, a group that has rescued thousands of girls and allowed them to go back to school.
Another awardee included Shazia, 15, of Pakistan who is the best friend of Malala and was seated next to her in the school bus that was attacked last October. The escalating violence has meant it was no longer safe for her to be in Pakistan and she has recently moved to the UK to complete her education.
Raouia, 12, from Morocco was given the award for her fight for the right to education and her struggle to achieve her goals. She was bold enough to tell the Moroccan education minister “mind your business” when he visited a Marrakech school and told Raouia she would be better off leaving school and becoming a child bride.
“You, your time would be better spent looking for a man,” he had told her. But Raouia stood up to him and stayed in school, completing her studies.
Keshob, 18, from Bangladesh won the award for her fight against child marriage. She is the chairman of ‘Wedding Busters’, a youth-led organisation that runs child marriage-free zones in Bangladesh.
Aminata, 20, from Sierra Leone received the honour for tirelessly campaigning to ensure that children affected by the conflict in her country are able to get education.