Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen who survived an assassination attempt by Taliban gunmen, will return to her new home in England after a whirlwind U.S. tour without the Nobel Peace Prize but a round of applause from Americans nonetheless.
President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama thanked Malala at the White House Friday afternoon for her inspiring mission for education. Declaring Oct. 11 the International Day of the Girl, President Obama touted Malala’s unwavering conviction to promote the right for all girls to attend schools in spite of increasing threats from the Taliban.
“Across the globe there are girls who will one day lead nations, if only we afford them the chance to choose their own destinies,” the president said. “And on every continent, there are girls who will go on to change the world in ways we can only imagine, if only we allow them the freedom to dream. We salute Malala’s efforts to help make these dreams come true.”
Only 16-years-old, she would have been the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in history, sharing the prestigious honor with an exclusive club of world leaders–past and present–like Martin Luther King, Jr., President Obama and Nelson Mandela. She was a popular choice in the West to win the award from among 258 other nominees for the title.
The global nonproliferation group, Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is working to remove chemical weapons from Syria, won the prize early Friday. The Malala Fund, which works to further the young activist’s goal of promoting girls’ education, tweeted its congratulations to the OPCW.
Reaction from the Twitterverse was mixed with many hoping she would once again overcome the odds. One year and two days ago, Malala was shot in the head at point blank range while riding on her school bus in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. The Pakistani militant group said they targeted the young activist for speaking out against them and promoting “Western thinking” of giving girls an education. Miraculously, she lived, and the activist spent the last year recovering after a taking a bullet to her head, neck and shoulder. Multiple surgeries later, doctors eventually transferred her to the U.K. for further treatment. The hospital let her go in March and she now permanently resides with her family outside London.
On the eve of the Nobel announcement, a Taliban spokesman said they were expecting her to win–and vowed to try to kill her once again.
“Even if she becomes the president of the United States, it will not be a surprise to us,” Shahidullah Shahid told NBC News. “We knew what she was doing and what she had planned for the future and that’s why we decided to eliminate her last year.”
The teen first caught the terrorists’ attention after giving a speech–at the age of 11–entitled, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?” In 2009, she rose to prominence blogging for BBC’s Urdu service about the Taliban’s crackdown on girls’ education.
Her harrowing ordeal and mission on behalf of girls inspired people around the world to rally on her behalf.
She was also awarded the European Union’s top human rights award, the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought, on Thursday in the midst of a U.S. tour that has included interviews with CNN, Jon Stewart and a live Q&A coordinated with the World Bank for Friday afternoon. Yousafzai maintained a modesty as expectations for a Nobel Peace Prize win ratcheted up this week, saying it would be a “great honor and more than I deserve.”
Time magazine named her 2012’s Person of the Year runner-up, coming in behind a newly re-elected Obama. Her book, “I Am Malala” is currently the second-best selling book on Amazon.com. The United Nations even dubbed July 12, her birthday, “Malala Day.”
Earlier this week, Malala wowed viewers of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. When asked what she would do if she encountered another Taliban attacker, she expressed her steadfast belief in her cause.
“If you hit a Talib, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty…You must fight others through peace and through dialogue and through education,” said Malala. “I would tell him how important education is and that I would even want education for your children as well. That’s what I want to tell you.”