A nice thing about Cambridge is its availability of bookshops and libraries – it’s convenient to be able to go downstairs from my room and out into the street straight to Heffers, a bookshop that’s been around since 1876.
I picked up a copy of I Am Malala the other day, a book that seems to be on display in every bookshop. It’s the autobiography of Malala Yousafzai – the schoolgirl from Pakistan who was shot in the head by the Taliban for wanting an education.
As soon as you open the book, there’s a picture of Malala’s hand decorated with henna. Instead of the usual swirling flowers and vines and Paisley motifs, however, the henna patterns are diagrams of the lungs and a vernier calliper and a chemistry equation.
Reading her story, I’m finding it astonishingly inspiring. Most students from my school opt for higher education, which isn’t a particularly surprising revelation. To us, it’s almost unfathomable to imagine people our age being denied that opportunity. To us, the big question is: will we get into our first-choice college? Will we get the grades or will that loathsome applicant who averaged 99 per cent trample over our future? The question is never: dare we even dream about being allowed to apply?
Malala has addressed the United Nations General Assembly, met the US president Barack Obama and been invited to Buckingham Palace, where she presented Queen Elizabeth II with a copy of her book. I Am Malala talks about the struggle long before she became famous, however.
You can hear her soft but strongly confident voice recount tales of how her father received death threats for running a school for girls, watching villages turn to dust after an earthquake, navigating a turbulent political scene, growing up in a society where change was slow to seep in.
The message remains clear: the Taliban have not silenced her, as she says herself, but amplified her voice, and her belief in the right to education for every child has only strengthened. The biography also opens a window into the human aspect of a teenage girl’s life – chatting about face creams with her best friend, rivalry with another clever student, goofing about mimicking her teachers.
Now she’s living in England and talks fondly about Skyping her old friends and longing to return to the stunningly picturesque Swat Valley. There’s a lot to enjoy here, too, and she seems grateful for the safety, security and order of her new life.
This strikes a chord with us freshers and we find ourselves similarly torn. First year at uni is exciting with hundreds of wonders to take in, but we haven’t forgotten home yet; I’m definitely looking forward to catching up with the old gang during Christmas holidays. Nevertheless, that’s hardly reason to gripe. The least we can do is be thankful that we are here at college receiving an education at all. I hope that someday the girls who Malala is fighting for will do as well.
The writer is an 18-year-old student who grew up in Dubai