“One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world”
– Malala Yousafzai
Getee Banks of Gabriel Jason Dean’s Heartland is a foreign aid worker who goes to teach in the girls’ section of the Blue Sky School in Maidan Shar, Afghanistan, the country from which she herself was adopted. Getee navigates her way through teaching the girls, often wondering if she’s getting through to them at all until another teacher tells her that one of their mutual students declares that she wants to be a writer like Anne Frank, whose diary is a part of Getee’s lesson plan.
As I read through Dean’s script for the first time, one question continued to whisper in my ear:
Is it possible to talk about girls’ education in the Middle East without thinking about Malala Yousafzai?
Many would say no. Malala has become symbolic of and synonymous with the movement to make education available for all girls and women, especially those in the Middle East. Her voice and her message seem to resonate through the script.
Born in 1997 in Pakistan’s beautiful Swat Valley region, Malala attended a school that her father Ziauddin Yousafzai had founded. After the girls’ schools in Swat began being attacked by the Taliban, Malala gave a speech in September 2008 in Peshawar titled “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?” In early 2009, Malala started blogging for the BBC under the alias Gul Makai about living under the Taliban’s threats to take away girls’ education. She was revealed as the BBC blogger in December of that same year.
Her activism for the education of girls made her a target for the Taliban, who had issued a death threat against her. On October 9, 2012, a masked gunman infamously boarded the bus 15-year-old Malala and her friends were riding and fired. After several surgeries and a transfer to Birmingham, England, Malala recovered without any major brain damage. By spring of 2013, she was able to start attending school in Birmingham.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Malala has received an outpouring of support. Since 2013, Malala has given speeches at the U.N.; written an autobiography; been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2013; been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 and won, becoming the youngest winner in history; opened a school for Syrian refugee girls in Lebanon; started the Malala Fund, an organization dedicated to give all girls access to education; and been the subject of documentaries. In only this year, she has been named an honorary Canadian citizen and has been appointed by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as a U.N. Messenger of Peace to promote girls’ education. This past summer Malala went on a mission, which she has named her Girl Power Trip to meet girls from around the world and learn about their fight to go to school. You can learn more about her trip here: https://www.malala.org/trip
As of September of this year, Malala has started classes at Oxford University where she is studying philosophy, politics, and economics.
As symbolic as Malala has become, we can’t forget that she’s also only twenty years old. She’s a girl who enjoyed Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series as a preteen and had a crush on tennis player Roger Federer. Similarly, Getee Banks is a woman who had a fascination with her father’s tape recorder when she was young and wants to enjoy the nightlife in Kabul. Both Getee and Malala are young women who are trying their best to make a difference in their world. Getee by going to Afghanistan and teaching, Malala by campaigning internationally for girls’ education.