Last week people woke up to hear the wonderful news that Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi had jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for their promotion of children’s education. At 17 Malala is the youngest recipient of the award, and at 65 Kailash Satyarthi is one of the older recipients.
Malala’s receipt of the award is a triumph on so many levels. It is a triumph of the human spirit and courage. When we read newspapers today the focus seems to be so much on what are wrong, short-sighted decisions, and misguided directions of leaders. Reporters are very good at cutting people off at the knees but do not always provide support for those who follow their beliefs and passions. Taking on the Taliban in the first place was a courageous move; after being severely wounded by the Taliban, she refused to give in and continued her crusade as the voice for children. In schools we speak a great deal about values, courage, and integrity and we talk of developing the next generation of leaders. We heard of her award at the same time that many were involved in running the Terry Fox Run for cancer. What a time for young people to look at the profound impact of Terry Fox and Malala Yousafzai and know that they do not have to wait years to make a difference.
Kailash was almost 50 years older than Malala. There is no generational gap; there is no lack of understanding or communication, because both Nobel Peace Prize winners share a common language: the dignity of humans, and ultimately children’s ability to pursue their dreams. When we talk of passing the torch to the next generation we miss an exceptional opportunity. Malala and Kailash have had such a significant effect on the discussion of women’s rights because of the combined forces of youth, experience, optimism, and pragmatism. Kailash’s willingness to teach and Malala‘s willingness to learn weaves a fabric that is hard to destroy.
Schools do their very best at fostering leadership opportunities and providing students with the skills to make leadership decisions. Ultimately those who make the most significant difference are those that follow their passions and their values. It is our role as “adults” to teach, support, and get out of the way.