Inspiration for the work you do for the children

What Malala’s story teaches me literacy and life

By the time she was 14 years old, Malala openly supported the education of girls in her country, Pakistan. Because she defied the oppressive beliefs of the Taliban by speaking out for the education of girls… Because she went to school… Because she would not be silenced, the Taliban issued a threat against her.

Despite the threat, she kept going to school and speaking out for educational rights. In 2012, a Taliban gunman boarded her school bus and shot her in the head. She did not die. Malala survived, wrote a book, attends university, and continues to advocate for the education of girls.

She is a hero for women and girls all over the world. Last week, Malala returned to her homeland for the first time since being shot. Listening to her voice, it was clear that she loves her homeland and has been waiting a long time to visit the home of her childhood.

As a child, Malala instinctively understood what the School Sisters of Notre Dame and founders of East Side Learning Center (ESLC) knew to be true. Education is the solution to solving the equity issues embedded in the culture of our community and the world. By providing an extra boost in reading—for children whose families cannot afford professional tutoring and/or who fled the oppression and poverty of their homelands so their children could be educated—ESLC gives each child the opportunity to build the necessary foundation in reading for success in school and society.

A person cannot educate herself or himself without first learning to read. Someone must take the time to teach the children how to connect letters and sounds, how to make sense of the symbols, and how to understand the meaning of new words.

However, not all children learn in the same way or on the same timeline.

That light of “understanding” in a child’s eye when he or she first makes the connection between sounds, letters, and symbols will not happen without investing resources in the children, in our schools, and in our communities where children grow up. Resources include investing money, time, and talent. This is because it will always take more time for some children to learn to read than others. Not all children are equal, but education gives more children an equitable opportunity.

It takes repetition of lessons, print concepts, symbols, sounds, and phonics before that light goes on. It takes a trusting relationship with a tutor, an educator, or teacher to inspire children to keep working at it and improving their reading skills. But once a child experiences the joy of self-learning and the independence that comes with reading, he or she has a foundation in reading. Then, with support and more practice, he or she will be ready to consume math, science, and technology lessons delivered in print by third grade.

I applaud Malala Yousafzai for understanding, by the age of 14, that reading is the great equalizer. I respect her for speaking out when many adults did not because they feared for their lives. Because of her, I am speaking out, too. Children are our most precious resource. How then will we respond? Are we willing to invest to ensure their lives are transformed through the power of education?

Malala risked her life to go to school. What then will I do?