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Malala, U.N. Chief Push for Action on MDGs

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 18 2014 (IPS) - Malala Yousafzai and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon spoke with 500 young people at a U.N. event Monday, marking 500 days until the conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Malala, the famous Pakistani student who was shot by the Taliban on a school bus in 2012, focused on her signature issue: education. She brought in experience from a whirlwind year of travel and advocacy.

“Every place that I go to there are so many incredible children, girls and boys, who are speaking up for their rights,” she said.

“When I went to Kenya, I met amazing girls who loved their books, who loved their pens, and who loved going to school. I haven’t seen such love ever before, and I saw how education has brought change in their community.”

In Nigeria, Malala met with parents of girls who were abducted by Boko Haram. She also spoke with several of the girls who had escaped from the militant group, and was astonished to hear that they were not receiving education or any help coping with their trauma.

“People are highlighting it on Twitter, but no one is really helping these girls,” she said.

Ever the optimist, Malala said her recent visit to Trinidad and Tobago gave her hope for the future.

“I went there and their education is free. Primary education is free, secondary education is free, tertiary education is free, and even if you want to do a Masters, half of the money is paid by the government.”

Even though Trinidad and Tobago is not particularly rich, she said, the country is developing because it uses its oil and gas revenues for education instead of losing it to corruption.

According to the most recent MDG report, primary education enrolment in developing countries increased from 80 percent in 1990 to 90 percent in 2012.

Ninety percent is not enough for Malala. Fifty-eight million primary-school-age children around the world still did not have access to education as of 2012.

“It was my dream to see every child going to school and it still is my dream,” Malala said.

Ban Ki-moon called the Pakistani schoolgirl “a daughter of the United Nations” and praised her for changing the landscape of the U.N.’s commitment to the MDGs, particularly in regard to education.

The U.N. hopes that Monday’s event, titled “500 Days of Action”, will build up momentum for the final stretch of the MDGs.

The MDGs have been the most successful anti-poverty campaign in history, according to the United Nations. Since 1990, extreme poverty has been reduced by more than half and child mortality has almost halved. However, much work remains to be done, particularly in terms of education.

“500 days are left, but that doesn’t mean that after 500 days we won’t do anything,” said Malala. She pointed to the U.N.’s preparations for the Sustainable Development Goals, which will extend the concept of the MDGs out to 2030.

Malala, for her part, lives her values. She brought her homework to the U.N. to work on in her free moments.

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