On October 11, 2012, two days after then 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai survived an assassination attempt on her way home from school in Pakistan, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the world that the abhorrent and cowardly attack exposed what really frightens extremists the most: “a girl with a book.”
Inspired by those words, two students at American University, in Washington, D.C., responded with a campaign using that phrase – #GirlWithABook – reaching out and urging the world to: “Stand with Malala Yousafzai and show the Taliban that there's no way they can stop us girls from getting an education. Ever. Post a picture of yourself reading a book or holding a sign of support.”
“The terrorists have shown that they are afraid of a girl with a book, so we stuck it to them by inviting people to post pictures of girls with books,” reads the website set up by creators Olivia Curl and Lena Shareef.
Within one month of the launch of their project last year, Ms. Curl and Ms. Shareef received hundreds of pictures from around the world, including those of the Secretary-General reading to his granddaughter, as well as UN Messengers of Peace, writer Paulo Coelho, musician Midori, and environmentalist/scientist Jane Goodall.
The pair then compiled the photos into a book for Malala.
Their dream came true last year when the Secretary-General presented their book #GirlWithABook to Malala when she visited the United Nations on her 16th birthday, the occasion when she moved the world with her words on the importance of education.
Today, another dream came true for the two creators of the initiative when they were among the 500 young people invited to the United Nations and got to meet face to face with Malala and her father.
They were all gathered at UN Headquarters to join in on a conversation about the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as a part of the UN's 500 days of action.
“It was really exciting, after we brought out a copy of the photo book, that they all remembered getting the book last year. For them to make a connection between our #GirlWithABook project and the book was very special,” said Ms Curl, speaking also on behalf of her project partner.
Ms. Shareef also said on their behalf: “I'm also really appreciative for the words of encouragement from Malala and her father to continue this movement into the future. If Malala wants us to keep going, then there's no question that we will.”
The two women said they were motivated by the enthusiastic support for their work to stand up for each girl’s right to an education.
“The atmosphere was powerful and motivating, and we were really encouraged to see so many young people, most of them younger than us, participating and caring deeply about the many issues addressed by the MDGs,” Ms. Curl said.