Pakistan’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai arrived Saturday in her hometown for the first time since a Taliban militant shot her there in 2012 for advocating girls’ education.
Yousafzai and her family arrived in a helicopter provided by the Pakistani military, which took her to the town of Mingora in the Swat Valley from Islamabad. She arrived in the capital before dawn Thursday flanked by heavy security and plans to return to Britain Monday.
Yousafzai, 20, won international renown after she was shot by the Taliban in Mingora. She received initial treatment in Pakistan and later was taken to England for further care. She stayed on in the United Kingdom to continue her education and became the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.
Yousafzai entered her childhood home Saturday accompanied by her father, mother and brother. She sobbed upon entering the home where relatives, former class fellows and friends had been anxiously waiting since morning to welcome her with flowers and hugs.
Youzafzai said she waited for the moment for more than five years and said she often looked at Pakistan on the map, hoping one day to return. She said she plans to permanently return to Pakistan after completing her studies in Britain.
“It is still like a dream for me, am I among you? Is it a dream or reality,” she said.
Security had been visibly beefed up in Mingora the previous day. The Pakistani Taliban had warned after the attack on the then-14-year-old that they would target her again if they got the chance.
Yousafzai had asked authorities to allow her to go to Mingora and Shangla village in the Swat Valley, where a school has been built by her Malala Fund.
In October 2012, Yousafzai was shot in the head by a Taliban assassin who jumped inside her school van and yelled, “Who is Malala?” She was targeted for speaking out on girls’ education.
Only 14 when she was shot, Yousafzai has since delighted in telling the Taliban that instead of silencing her, they have amplified her voice. She has also written a book, spoken at the United Nations and met with refugees.
Grateful to Pakistan army
On Friday, Yousafzai praised the Pakistan army in an interview on the independent Geo news channel for providing her timely medical treatment, saying her surgery was done by an army surgeon at the “right time.” She later received post-trauma treatment in Britain.
She said she would not have been sitting in Pakistan now if she had not been treated quickly. She plans to permanently return to Pakistan after completing her studies in Britain.
All for education
Yousafzai has won praise from across Pakistan on her return home, but some critics on social media have tried to undermine her efforts to promote girls’ education. Yousafzai told media outlets Friday that she expected criticism from militants, who had a particular mindset, but doesn’t understand why some educated Pakistanis oppose her.
“Those who do criticize have an absurd kind of criticism that doesn’t make any sense,” she said in an interview with Pakistan’s The News English-language newspaper published Saturday.
“What I want is for people to support my purpose of education and think about the daughters of Pakistan who need an education,” she told the newspaper. “Don’t think about me. I don’t want any favor or I don’t want everyone to accept me. All I care about is that they accept education as an issue.”
In the interview, she said she was sitting in her classroom when news broke about her Nobel Prize and that she was not aware of it because she was not using her mobile phone at the time.
“My teacher came into my classroom and called me outside. I was worried that I might have done something wrong and I am in trouble. But she told me that I had won the Peace Prize. I said thank you. You don’t know how to respond. For me, it was for the cause of education,” she told the paper.