Head’s Blog: He Named Me Malala

29 November 2019

The 5,000-mile distance between Pakistan’s Swat Valley and Summertown collapsed to the width of the School Hall stage last night as hundreds of us gathered for an extraordinary fundraising event and pledged our commitment to tackling one of the world’s more hidden problems.

The GDST’s mission declaration ‘girls learning without limits’ offers a telling counterpoint to the harsh reality for so many girls worldwide (an estimated 130 million) for whom learning in school at all is beyond the limits of their wildest dreams.

Themed around Malala’s life story and campaign work, and featuring a screening of the film He Named Me Malala followed by a panel discussion, the event brought together Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, the CEO of the GDST, Cheryl Giovannoni, and OHS Alumna and distinguished humanitarian, Gemma Mortensen, in front of a lively audience.

It strikes me that ambition is the true antonym of ignorance: the ambition of Malala in not taking ‘no’ for an answer, the ambition of her parents in supporting her mission, the ambition of our own student leaders – Alice Gregory, Claudia Preston and Amina Sagna – in conceiving this project and making it a reality.

Malala’s courageous stand against the Taliban in defence of her right to an education, culminating in the gun attack upon her on her journey on the school bus in 2012, propelled her into the world’s limelight.  Just like Rosa Parks on another bus journey 64 years ago, Malala became a symbol of hope to her peers and a focal figure for those in more benign circumstances who see these limits on girls’ learning as a shameful squandering of skills and potential.

It struck me that, in this context, ambition stands as the most apt antonym of ignorance.  The ambition of Malala in not taking ‘no’ for an answer.  The ambition of her parents, whose support for her in her mission gave her the freedom to take her place on a world stage.  The ambition of our own student leadership team – Alice Gregory, Claudia Preston and Amina Sagna – who conceived of the project in the first place and took on the challenge of making it a reality.  They made of it a  resounding success and created an unforgettable experience for all who attended.  It demonstrated many of the very finest ingredients of the OHS spirit – the engagement, initiative and plain courage of our students and the wholehearted dedication of the staff who stand behind them in their every venture.

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