Standing alone

While driving through the forests of Northern Romania several years ago, I came across a large swathe of trees that had died. I asked my guide what the problem was, and was told it was the result of acid rain. Pollutants from local factories had risen into the atmosphere, distilled in the rain clouds and had then descended onto the forests as a corrosive agent, destroying and damaging large tracts of foliage. In such a beautifully lush forest, the dead trees looked rather unsightly, and served as a reminder of the destruction we have brought to our environment through unchecked fossil-fuelled large-scale industrial processing. And yet, in amongst the large scale destruction, surprisingly, the occasional green tree stood, somehow defiant and resilient against the acid rain. Years later, thinking back on how incongruous this seemed to me at the time, I can now see how the acid rain trees story can be applied as a potent metaphor. You see, in even the most strident incidences of widespread oppression, disaster or destruction, there will often be elements of society that will resist, and there will be some who remain untouched. Life goes on. Some survive, against all odds. Some even grow stronger. Such a metaphor can be applied to just about any situation where there is strife, and where people are struggling to survive against seemingly irrepressible odds.

One powerful example of this is Malala Yousafzai, a schoolgirl who lived in Pakistan's Northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and who stood up against the Taliban militants who controlled the region. When the Taliban decreed that girls were to be banned from receiving an education, and started to destroy schools in the area, she began to write a blog about life under the regime.  She also protested strongly against their archaic laws on Facebook and other social media. She wrote her blog for the BBC under a pseudonym, but unfortunately, the Taliban soon discovered her identity. In October 2012, as the teenager was returning home, Taliban gunmen attempted to assassinate her, shooting her in the head and neck.  She was airlifted to hospital, and although in a critical condition and unconscious for a period of time, she survived the surgery and after also receiving specialist treatment in a British hospital, recovered from her injuries. The Taliban were unrepentant, reiterating their plan to murder her (and members of her family), considering her a clear threat to their regime.

Many others, especially young people might, understandably, have abandoned their crusade at that point, intimidated by the threats from the Taliban gunmen. But Malala did not yield. She had the courage and conviction to stand her ground, and now campaigns openly and vigorously for free education for all. She is an inspiration to millions around the world, has addressed the United Nations Assembly, and was nominated for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize. She has now established the Malala Fund for Girls' Education, and a biographical film about her life is currently in production. Malala's courageous stand has already made a huge impact on education around the world. Schools have been re-established in many places where they were once closed, and world leaders have caught her vision to campaign for free education for all, regardless of gender, religion or ethnicity. Malala is truly a tree standing alone in the midst of destruction, resilient and unyielding. At her young age, she is an agent for change, surviving and succeeding against all the odds.

One of Malala's most memorable quotes to date is: 'books will defeat terrorism'. I hope she inspires you as much as she has inspired me.

'Standing up for what you believe in, sometimes means standing alone'

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

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Standing alone by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Neil said…
Amazing girl, inspirational.
Richard Palmer said…
I always think of the quote from The Diary of Ann Frank when I read this type of post - I think it's pretty inspirational: ‘It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals…. Yet, I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. …. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, ….., I can feel the suffering of millions and yet, if I look up to the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty …. will end, and that peace and tranquillity will return again. ’

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