The Malala Effect: Meet The Girl From Afghanistan Fighting For Children’s Education


We’ve always been big believers in the “Malala effect”, that she would inspire girls around the world to take up the mantle of education activist and fight for the right of children everywhere to go to school. And now we are beginning to see the proof that she is indeed having a major impact.

Syrian teen Muzoon Almellehan, who counts Malala as one of her personal friends, has become a force for good among the refugee camp in Jordan where her and her family have been based since the outbreak of the civil war in her country in 2012. And now there is another girl whose name is reaching international media headlines for her similar mission to ensure children, especially girls, stay in school despite living under harsh conditions. 14 year old Aziza Rahim Zada from Afghanistan is already being hailed as a hero for what she is fighting for in her country.

Education in Afghanistan has been under threat for many years mainly due to the former rule of the Taliban where girls and women were discouraged from getting and education and working outside the home. Now that a new democratic government rules, along with help from foreign aid initiatives, the ratio of girls going to school compared with boys is a far cry from previous years.

Under 60% of children attend primary school, and under 35% go to secondary school, according to the United Nations.

The New York Times reports as recent as 2013 estimates of girls going to school in Afghanistan were at 40%, compared to almost nothing in 2001 under the Taliban. However there is a long way to go for the education system to be on par with the rest of the world, particularly more developed countries. And Aziza is just one young girl who is doing all she can to ensure the progression toward parity for all children, especially refugees.


NBC News reports she has successfully fought for the rights of undocumented children to be allowed to attend school.

“My work is only for kids. I will continue to work for them because in Afghanistan children’s rights are violated in all levels,” she said.

Think about that, a 14 year old girl managed to convince the government to do something positive. It is an achievement many of us can only dream of, in terms of fighting for something we are passionate about.

Aziza is already showing signs of being a future leader with the way she has engaged children in her refugee and ensured their voices are heard by the right authorities.

“We set up a council of children in the camp and we convene the council once a year where all the children in the camp speak about their problems. We also have a council of elders in the camp so then I take the children’s problems to the council and the based on that I take the issues to the relevant government agencies and also suggest a solution,” she said.

Like Malala and Muzoon, Aziz’s determination to fix the problems she and other children face come from being in the middle of a dire circumstance which could be the difference between a life out of poverty, or a continuation of the inequalities and dangerous status quo in the conservative society.


Aziza’s family have been living in the refugee encampment for 15 years after they fled the war in their native Parwan province. She is among the most disadvantaged children who are desperately looking for a way to ensure their future is secure. Her brother was killed in the war, and her mother is the bread winner of the family where she works as a cook but still manages to look after her 4 children.

It was her family’s situation that enabled Aziza to become an activist.

“What motivated me was the poverty and lack of education I have experienced in my family,” she said.

Aside from campaigning the government to allow her and many other undocumented internally displaced children to go to school, Aziza is inspiring other people in her encampment.

“I want to be like her, I want to get an education like her and become famous,” said one fellow refugee named Rabia.

Her activism reached a major point a few months ago when she was among 3 finalists nominated for the prestigious Children’s Peace Prize, of which Malala was a recipient in 2013. Aziza did not end up winning when the announcement was made in mid-December, but her story has certainly left an indelible mark on organizers of the event.


“She stands up for children living in appalling conditions in Afghan refugee camps and has encouraged hundreds of other children to talk about their problems and claim their rights. In her own calm and convincing way she is able to build a bridge between a conservative society and a society which allows more progressive and effective approaches to girls’ and children’s rights. She organizes activities for children to discuss and document their problems, raises awareness and engages with parliament members and other opinion makers,” said Desmond Tutu of Aziza.

“She stands up for children living in appalling conditions in Afghan refugee camps and has encouraged hundreds of other children to talk about their problems and claim their rights,” Netherlands-based aid and advocacy charity Kids Rights said in another statement.

Aziza has given children in Afghanistan a much needed public voice that is advocating their needs from their point of view. It is a powerful reminder to us that when we feel passionate about an issue or see something in society that needs to change drastically, we can be bystanders, or we can choose to be the difference.

“I like to improve the children’s rights because the future of my country belongs to children…my message for the world is that people should not make their children victims of political things and money,” said Aziza in a video statement form September where she expresses why the nomination for the Children’s Peace Prize means a lot to her.

You can watch the full video below:


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