GREENSBORO — In her sophomore year at Stanford, half a world away from her home country, Shiza Shahid couldn’t stop watching the 11-year-old girl in an online video.
Like Shahid, the girl in the documentary was from Pakistan. Unlike Shahid, who was safe and sound in a dorm at one of the best universities in the world, the girl was in danger from the Taliban.
“I could have been her,” Shahid recalled in a speech Wednesday at N.C. A&T. “The thought was, could I change the girl’s life? I didn’t have an answer, but I had to try.”
The girl in the video turned out to be Malala Yousafzai, and that chance online encounter changed the lives of both young women.
Since then, Malala has become a globally recognized spokeswoman for women’s rights, especially their right to be educated. Shahid is co-founder and CEO of the Malala Fund, which seeks to advance Malala’s activism and improve access to education for girls around the globe.
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Shahid was the keynote speaker for A&T’s annual Text-in-Community program. All incoming freshmen were assigned to read “I Am Malala” over the summer. Students and faculty through campus will talk about the themes of the book — education, gender equality, peace and conflict — at panel discussions and symposiums throughout the academic year.
In her speech at Harrison Auditorium, Shahid talked about getting to know Malala. The summer after her sophomore year, Shahid returned home to Pakistan, where her volunteer work in women’s prisons and earthquake shelters helped her earn a scholarship to Stanford.
That summer, Shahid set up a camp to provide role models to Pakistani girls and help them fight for access to local schools.
“I could have done nothing that summer,” Shahid told the A&T students. “But somehow ... I found a way to empower the girls.”
Shahid graduated from Stanford in 2012 and got a dream job with a consulting firm in Dubai.
In Pakistan, the Taliban was threatened by Malala’s activism.
In October 2012, two Taliban gunmen boarded a bus taking Malala home from school and shot the 15-year-old girl in the head.
The Pakistani government announced last week that it arrested 10 militants in connection with the shooting.
Shahid quit her job and rushed to England, where Malala was taken for treatment. As Malala recovered, her willingness to stand up to the Taliban and survive their assassination attempt turned her into an international celebrity.
Malala, now 18, has spoken before the United Nations and at Harvard University, met with President Barack Obama and England’s Queen Elizabeth II and been honored around the world.
Shahid didn’t return to the consulting world. Instead, with the help of Malala and her family, she set up the Malala Fund to help spread Malala’s message about the importance of educating girls.
Shahid told the A&T students that she had no roadmap for her career path — just the willingness to be creative, look beyond her own experiences and work to overcome obstacles.
“As Malala has taught us,” Shahid said, “you are stronger than that that holds you back.”
Contact John Newsom at (336) 373-7312 and follow @JohnNewsomNR on Twitter.