One minute the refugee girls were watching a documentary about Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai on a television screen Tuesday afternoon in Minneapolis.
The next moment, they were sitting face to face with Yousafzai herself.
The 19-year-old Pakistani activist who survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban for speaking up for girls’ education rights made a surprise visit at a lunch hosted by the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota.
She met with 20 star-struck students from the Newcomer Academy program at Wellstone International High School in Minneapolis. Yousafzai was in town to speak about her life and her advocacy Tuesday night at Target Center.
But before her speech, she craved a more intimate conversation with girls who, like her, are students and starting over in a new country with all the struggles and opportunities that come with that experience.
“She is energized by conversations with girls,” said Eason Jordan, director of special projects for the Malala Fund, which supports more resources for education and safe schools for all children.
Accompanied by her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, Malala entered the room drawing gasps and stares as she sat down with the girls. She asked them about their aspirations, nodding as the girls introduced themselves and spoke of their dreams of becoming teachers, doctors, and lawyers. She encouraged them to speak for themselves, believe in themselves and join hands with others who are working for the same causes to make their voices even louder.
“I am with you and I stand by you,” Yousafzai told them.
After the lunch meeting, the girls surrounded her, taking selfies and receiving copies of her memoir.
“It’s amazing! I didn’t think I would see her today,” said Zaynab Abdi, clutching her signed copy of Yousafzai’s book.
Later that night, Yousafzai addressed thousands at Target Center. The Star Tribune sponsored the event, called “An Evening With Malala Yousafzai.” It was part of the national Unique Lives and Experiences lecture series featuring prominent female voices. Other stops along Yousafzai’s speaking tour include Seattle, Portland and Providence, R.I.
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