Malala Isn't Alone: Another Pakistani Girl's Dream The case of Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old shot by the Taliban, focused world attention on the risks that some Pakistani schoolgirls face by simply demanding to go to school. Another 15-year-old girl from the same region is also speaking out, though her story shows the complex issues surrounding girls' education in Pakistan.
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Malala Isn't Alone: Another Pakistani Girl's Dream

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Malala Isn't Alone: Another Pakistani Girl's Dream

Malala Isn't Alone: Another Pakistani Girl's Dream

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We're going to learn more this morning about the world in which Malala Yousafzai lives. Malala is the Pakistani teenager who's recovering in a British hospital. She was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan for demanding education for girls like her. The person we're about to meet is one of those girls just like Malala, girls who are struggling for their rights in a world very different from our own. Here's NPR's Philip Reeves.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Her name is Huma Khan. Like Malala, she's 15. Like Malala, she's passionate about school.

HUMA KHAN: (Through translator) I'm really fond of studying. I really want to get more education. I want to become something. I want to be self-reliant.

REEVES: Huma is Pashtun. Her family comes from the northwest of Pakistan, not far from the Afghan border. That's another thing she has in common with Malala. Theirs is a deeply traditional world, which tends to follow a profoundly conservative form of Islam.

KHAN: (Through translator) Here, girls can't even go outside their home without permission. And if they have to go out, it must be in full veil. Not one single part of your body should be visible.

REEVES: Huma's wearing a light blue shawl and a bright smile. She's small for her years, but confident and very articulate. She's perching on a wooden chair in the tiny front room of her home beneath a whirring fan. Her father, Wasil, is here, too. Huma's eyes light up as she lists her lessons at school.

KHAN: (Through translator) English, math, Islamiyat, Urdu, Arabic, home economics, social studies.

REEVES: Those are her favorite subjects. Yet soon, she won't be studying them anymore. Soon, she won't be going to school at all. Huma's father, Wasil, makes bricks for a living. He has no education, which he regrets. So, years ago, he persuaded his family to agree that Huma should be given some.

WASIL: (Through translator) Education gives us awareness. I wanted her to have some sort of awareness.

REEVES: Sending Huma to school isn't easy. Wasil says the government-run schools in his neighborhood barely function. Teachers often just don't show up. So he's paying to send Huma to private school. The school's pretty basic: It has no library, no computers, no safe drinking water, and, thanks to daily power outages, often no electricity.

But Huma is learning a lot. She says she's very grateful for that.

KHAN: (Through translator) I am really very fortunate to have such parents. In our village, many girls are not even allowed to get education at all.

REEVES: In March, Huma's being pulled out of school. Wasil says he would like Huma to have more education, but he just can't afford it. But he concedes that if Huma's kid brother wants to go to a university, he can. There's another big issue in play here. Many Pashtuns marry within their own extended families. Huma's in 10th grade. Wasil says if she goes any higher, he'll have trouble finding her a husband.

WASIL: (Through translator) The problem of the extended family is that if we give more education to our girls, then we might not receive any marriage proposals for them.

REEVES: Huma dreams of one day running her own girls' school, or perhaps becoming a doctor. She's not at all happy about having to leave school.

KHAN: (Through translator) I have been studying and learning since I was five years old. Books and studies are my friends. So I really feel very bad.

REEVES: In Huma's world, it's very difficult for a girl to argue with decisions made by her elders, though she'd like to.

KHAN: (Through interpreter) Yes, I do feel like arguing.

REEVES: As her father looks on, Huma explains that she's worried that if she challenges her parents, she might bring shame on them. She says if they change their minds and let her stay on in school, they'd be seen as weak.

KHAN: (Through translator) Other relatives in our extended family will ridicule my parents, and I do not want our parents to be insulted because of me.

REEVES: Two weeks have elapsed since Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen. Like most Pakistanis, Huma was horrified.

KHAN: (Through translator) I think it's a very bad thing. The Taliban have done a gross injustice to her by trying to eliminate her.

REEVES: For Huma, Malala stands for a cause that could hardly be more relevant to her own life.

KHAN: (Through translator) The message that Malala is giving us says that we should fight for our rights to education, do something and become something, for your country and for your family.

REEVES: Huma's learning firsthand how hard it is for an ordinary girl to become something in Pakistan. There are so many obstacles in her path, quite apart from the Taliban, yet Huma has not lost hope. She really hopes the global outcry over the attack on Malala will change the views of the people who run her troubled world, and that they'll make sure all those girls like Malala can go to school.

KHAN: (Foreign language spoken)

REEVES: I hope people will learn from it, she says. I hope some people will change. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad.

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