Do You Know Malala Yousufzai?
Enough with the politics and divisiveness for a couple of minutes. I'm about to tell you how you can make the world a better place. It's also a story about the difficulty in doing an unambiguously good deed in today's terribly complex world.
Surely you've heard the account of Malala Yousufzai? She's the Pakistani girl, now 14 years old, who has been waging an incredibly brave battle against the repressive anti-female polices of the Taliban since she was 11. She blogged for the BBC about life under the Taliban in Pakistan's Swat Valley, under a pen name.
All she wanted was an education. And the opportunities that the world should be offering to a bright, inquisitive, ambitious girl.
Last year, Pakistan gave her a National Peace Prize. She'd already met with President Obama's special envoy to the region. With UNICEF sponsorship, she led delegations that addressed local politicians about children's rights.
And on October 9, two bearded, armed bullies who claimed to be acting in the name of Allah stopped her school bus as it was taking her home. According to news reports, one of the men forced himself into the bus. This from the Christian Science Monitor:
"Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all," he demanded. "She is propagating against the soldiers of Allah, the Taliban. She must be punished."
And then he shot Malala in the head.
Amazingly, she lives. Though according to news reports, she's in critical condition, and facing a slow and uncertain recovery. And amazingly, many Pakistanis, including religious leaders, have risked their own lives and spoken out against the shooting. Four people have been arrested.
My reaction was "what can we do to show support to Malala?" Not "we" as in American national policy, but what can individual human beings on the other side of the globe do? I assumed there were worthy organizations in that area that are working toward Malala's goals and could benefit from donations in her honor. But which ones?
A couple of days ago, Nicholas Kristof wrote about Malala for the New York Times and mentioned a couple of organizations that he said deserved support. But when I checked the websites for the two groups, I saw no obvious way to donate in Malala's name. So I wrote emails to both asking about that.
Laila Karamally, executive director of Developments In Literacy (DIL), quickly replied. Turns out there was a good reason that Malala's name could not be found on the organization's website at that moment: fear.
When Kristof mentioned the group, the response at its schools in Pakistan was anything but gratitude.
"The first reaction from our team on the ground was that they were very alarmed and concerned." Karamally said.
DIL has no schools in the town where Malala lives -- Mingora is still too dangerous. But it runs several schools nearby. And even there, the danger has been so great that there are no signs indicating they are schools. DIL works hard, Karamally said, to work through local leaders and to respect local sensitivities. The strategy works. A couple of years ago, when the Taliban burned a school down, the families in the town rebuilt it brick by brick and now stand guard.
DIL schools serve about 17,000 boys and girls in Pakistan. It's all about primary education, the sort that moves a child from illiteracy into the ability to take some control of their own lives.
But the progress has been slow and cautious, always aware that armed, bearded men who hate the education of girls are too nearby and looking for an excuse to attack. And that's why Malala's name wasn't on the website when I asked about it.
"We need to give some ‘web distance' between DIL and the outrage over this attack, lest we put our own at risk," Karamally told me at the time.
Malala's name and photo are there now, though, at dil.org. Front and center. After getting inquiries from me and others, the leadership of DIL talked it over and decided the benefit outweighed the risk. This is an opportunity to let the world know about the need for schools in Pakistan, and to let the people who have lived there in fear know that they are not alone.
"We need to get beyond [the fear]," Karamally said. "The Taliban already know where we are and what we're doing."
So click the "donate" button and you'll be told how to give money in Malala's honor. You'd get plenty of -- I was going to say "bang for your buck," but I'll amend that to "benefit for your money." It costs only $100 to educate one child for a year. That includes paying the teacher, keeping the lights in, covering educational materials. A donation of $30 buys a month of teacher resource materials.
In the first day after setting up the rudiments of an "Honor Malala" fund, the DIL collected more than $40,000. Online donations generally run less than $5,000 a month.
Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a fund with millions of dollars collected from all over the world that could be stuck up the, ahem, noses of the Taliban to demonstrate there's a world community that stands behind Malala? And to let the sensible Pakistanis know there's a world community supporting them through education and not just through drone strikes?
Too often, it takes a martyr to effect change. Recall that the Arab Spring sprung from the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian fruit seller. But the world offers examples of people who did not have to die for their sacrifices to have an impact. Nelson Mandela. Rosa Parks.
May Malala Yousufzai awaken one day soon to be astonished at the good being done in her name.