(NEW YORK) — Malala Yousafzai nearly died a year ago this week because she wanted the right to go to school.
Last year, the 16-year-old was singing with a group of other girls on their school bus, when a gunman boarded the bus and shot her point blank in the face. The bullet missed her brain, and Malala survived the Taliban assassination attempt.
Today, Malala is now an international symbol of girls rights’ for education and security through her efforts to fight extremism and oppression.
“I think that death didn’t want to kill me,” Malala told ABC News’ Diane Sawyer in an exclusive interview.
Malala, a school girl from the Swat Valley region in northwest Pakistan, spoke out against the Taliban after they issued an edict in 2009 banning all girls from going to school in Swat. At the age of 11, Malala began blogging for the BBC about her life under the Taliban, denouncing their attacks on schools, teachers and students. She also appeared in a New York Times documentary by Adam B. Ellick, Class Dismissed, which detailed her fight against the Taliban.
“We are starving for education,” Malala said. “For us, it’s like a precious gift. It’s like a diamond.”
However, the Taliban sent warnings to Malala and her father to be silent at the penalty of death.
“They cannot stop me. I will get my education, if it is in home, school, or anyplace,” Malala said.
Malala told Diane Sawyer that, before the attack, she planned what she would say if an attacker did come.
“I will tell that man that I even want education for your daughter,” Malala said.
She said she thought words and pens were more powerful than guns.
On Oct. 9, 2012, two men with guns approached Malala’s school bus. One of the men climbed onto the bus asked, “Who is Malala?”
Malala said she didn’t remember what happened next, but the two doctors who helped to save her life said that in the 72 hours that followed, Malala was close to death.
“The chances of being shot at point blank range in the head and that happening, I don’t know,” Dr. Fiona Reynolds told Diane Sawyer. “I don’t know why she survived.”
“The fact that she didn’t die on the spot or very soon thereafter is to my mind nothing short of miraculous,” Dr. Javid Kayani told Diane Sawyer.
Malala woke up in a hospital in England, with a long road to recovery ahead of her.
She had to undergo several surgeries, including one to reconnect the nerve on her face. Although the hearing in Malala’s left ear was lost forever, she received a cochlear implant.
“I have never seen Malala cry,” Dr. Reynolds said. “She didn’t even squeeze my hand when they were sticking needles into her.”
Eventually Malala made a full recovery and was ready to appear in front of the world once again.
“Doctors are still working on my physiotherapy and still thinking about the left side of my face and also thinking about my jaw,” Malala said. “But that’s just small things. I’m recovered.”
On her 16th birthday, Malala addressed the United Nations on the importance of education.
Malala also went on to found the Malala Fund, a nonprofit organization that supports girls’ education around the world through grants and partner collaborations. She also released a book on Tuesday, I Am Malala, about the attack.
Malala said real Islam teaches real forgiveness.
“It’s not important if they are prosecuted or arrested,” Malala said. “He would have a family…I’m not a cruel person. I want to fight with them. I want to fight against them, but through my voice and through my pen, not with guns.”
Malala and her family remained in England, where she is now attending school and adjusting to life in a culture so different from the one she knew in Pakistan.
“I don’t know what would I do in future,” Malala said. “I’ll decide it later.”
She hopes to one day return to her home.
“There’s no place like home,” Malala told Diane Sawyer. “And I do miss my home.”
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