The Courage to Begin Again – Peshawar School Reopens

For 16-year-old Shahrukh Khan, who was shot in both legs while pretending to play dead in his school’s auditorium, going back was traumatic.

“I have lost 30 of my friends, how I will sit in the empty class, how I will look to their empty benches,” he told AFP before the school reopened.

“My heart has been broken. All the class fellows I had, have died, now my heart does not want to attend school,” he added.


Pakistan - school boy

I happened on the article unexpectedly. It wasn’t a front page story, rather it was a reprint from Associated Foreign Press in Al Arabiya News and to date has only been viewed around 900 times. But it is an important story. The headline shouts to me of courage and vulnerability, of people who even in their grief are moving forward.

“Peshawar schools reopen after Taliban massacre”

The attack was almost a month ago – December 16 – and captured the world’s attention for a record 24 hours before another major event took its place.

Trauma has a domino effect. It not only affects those who were directly impacted, but moves on to third, fourth, fifth degrees. Millions of children, parents, teachers, and school administrators, as well as the general population were affected by the attack on one school. Schools around the country were closed as the government discussed strategies on how best to provide protection for children.

Though difficult for any school to open, the Army Public School where the attack occurred has faced the most trauma and pain. So the courage to begin again, the courage to put fear aside and to move forward is huge.

Why do I think this is particularly important in the case of the Peshawar attack? 

Because Pakistan is never in the news for their bravery. Never in the news for those millions who continue to get up day after day and display tremendous courage doing things that most of us dismiss because they are so mundane – going to school; going to work; going to the bazaar.

An old article in Psychology Today highlights some attributes of courage and four of these resonated with me:

  • Feeling fear yet choosing to act
  • Standing up for what’s right
  • Persevering in the face of adversity
  • Facing suffering with dignity or faith

All of these are present in the decision to open the school where the attacks occurred. Every parent, every child displays these qualities as they enter the doors of a place where they saw and experienced trauma and violence, where classmates died and life changed. They are choosing to not succumb to paralysis. They are defiant in the face of terror, daring it to stop them. They are courageously moving forward.

Malala Yousafzai has rightly won the world’s respect, admiration, and attention for surviving an attack by the Taliban in Swat Valley. With the opening of the Army Public School we see more and more with the same spirit and courage as Malala. Let us commend these students, these teachers, and these school administrators for their bravery. Let us salute them for their courage to begin again.

“I am not scared, no force can stop me from going to attend my school, I will go and will tell the attackers, ‘we are not afraid of you’,” 16-year-old Zahid Ayub, who sustained minor wounds, told AFP.

“It is the miracle of movement.  People who have experienced severe accidents with trauma to the spinal cord will often say that learning to walk again is one of the hardest things they have ever done….It’s learning how to walk in a new way, learning how to live differently, first in baby steps, gradually gaining strength and momentum. It takes time and it takes work.” from Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging 

Picture Credit: Tim Irwin taken in Pakistan 2010

Yar darr mat, Malala bann (Don’t be scared, be a Malala).

Saturday, November 10 was proclaimed Malala Day in honor of Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban for her ongoing activity in support of  education for girls within Pakistan.

The photos posted on BBC News document vigils, demonstrations, and prayers throughout Pakistan. Men, women, and children bound together in support of this little girl and hope for the future.

Just days after the shooting, a short article published in The Express Tribune had an update on Pakistan’s reaction summed up in a phrase:

Yar darr mat, Malala bann (Don’t be scared, be a Malala).

It was a collective response to feeling helpless in the face of evil and wrong doing, and it was, and is, powerful! Throughout Karachi, one of the largest cities in Pakistan, this phrase was used and people responded.

Hearing about this response in Pakistan is heartening, it’s good news. Everyday our media sources bring us bad news from Pakistan, bad news delivered with smiles that show off perfect white teeth; bad news given with bad pronunciation of the word Pakistan; bad news delivered with no empathy or understanding of this country.

And then comes a Malala and we are given a glimpse of tremendous courage, a glimpse of someone who believes in something beyond her circumstances, and is moving forward in a trajectory that cannot be stopped. Moving forward and now carrying a country with her.

And it’s happening within Pakistan, by Pakistanis  — without another country trying to impose an agenda and values and push change that would inevitably die. Change that comes from within is lasting change. Change imposed from without is not change at all, it’s imperialism.  It’s arrogant thinking that walks in front of and not beside. 

And this change is led by a 14-year-old girl who has a purpose and courage to carry out that purpose.

“Don’t be Scared – Be a Malala” is a call to courage for all of us, no matter where we live. A call to change what needs changing in our communities, in our towns, in our work places, in our places of worship — but most of all in ourselves.  Because change comes from within. 

 *Photos courtesy of Tim Irwin and Jason Philbrick – fellow Third Culture Kids who share a love for Pakistan. 

Malala-style Grit and Other Responses to a Rant

It was with a fast pulse and flushed face that I pressed ‘publish’ on yesterday’s post. Whenever there is a passionate rant there is a chance that it won’t be received as intended.

I am grateful to the readership of Communicating Across Boundaries for the thoughtful responses and sharing that the post received. I’ve picked some of these comments to highlight in today’s post.

Jessica wrote: I had hoped you’d blog about Malala! I read her story yesterday and it hit home for me… my ESL students this year are mostly all from the Middle East. Every day I learn from them. I learn what it means to sacrifice for something you believe in. To give your LIFE for something that some students in America would do anything to skip out on! I spoke with one of my students this week, and he shared that he feels like we Americans don’t know what it is to be free; we’ve grown up with freedom all of our lives. He hasn’t. He knows what it means to be oppressed…to fight and dream and sacrifice for something we consider so basic. When he spoke of freedom, it was as if he were cradling the most precious jewel in his hands. And he spoke with tears of how he would rather die than to give that up. We Americans have sold ourselves so cheaply… and we live for the basest of causes. I think it’s time we get some Malala-style grit, bravery and passion!

My brother Ed responded with this: 

Oh my – no wonder my laptop was smoking this morning… (!)

But in response to your line, “a 14 year old girl is a threat in what universe?” I can only think of Psalm 8:2 – “Through the praise of children and infants, you have established a stronghold against your enemies…” and I Corinthians 1: 27ff “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are…”

It is the 14-year-old brave ones, and a million others who have none of the power or wealth of this world but still stand up for what is right and just and good and beautiful who will win in the end. But there’s going to be a lot of pain between now and the end…

Finally Brother James with three phrases that are known to many – an appropriate benediction: 

I heard her story this morning.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

And that’s it – may we go with Mercy into this day. Thanks for reading.

If you missed yesterday’s post, please take a look at 14-Year-Old Courage to get context for today’s article.