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Malala Yousafzai, an education activist shot by the Taliban in Pakistan last year, inspired hundreds of young people at the United Nations on Friday to push for worldwide compulsory education.
"We want schools and education for every child's bright future. We will continue our journey to our destination of peace and education," the schoolgirl said in her first public speech since she was critically injured nine months ago, sparking a global outcry.
"We will speak for our rights and we will bring change through our voice," the global youth icon, who turned 16 years old on Friday, added. "We believe in the power and the strength of our words. Our words can change the whole world."
Last October she sustained injuries on the left side of her head when the terrorists singled her out on her school bus in Northwestern Pakistan for her activism and also shot at her classmates.
"They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed," she said. "The terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions but nothing changed in my life expect this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born."
More than 500 young leaders ranging in age from 12-25 representing 85 countries gathered to support her initiative, while also speaking out about educational challenges in their respective countries.
Sitting in a chair typically reserved for high ranking officials, such as U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, her words evoked thundering applause and even tears from the captive audience during her 17 minute speech in English.
Pakistan's Ambassador Masood Khan called it "one of the most outstanding speeches" he had heard, praising her poise and maturity.
"Her message is clear, girls and boys all around the world should get education and there should be no hindrance in their way," he told Kyodo News. "They mustn't be stopped so it is a message against violence, for education."
Zainab Alam, from Lahore, Pakistan, was moved by the school girl's words and her "forgiving nature."
"She (Yousafzai) herself just represents a woman that you don't see very often," the 25-year-old graduate student explained. "We don't have a lot of female role models and (it is important) for the young girls (in Pakistan) who see her."
Ban highlighted his concerns that 57 million children around the world are still not in school, which the activist and others took charge to try to change during their youth assembly.
"So let us wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism, let us pick up our books and our pens," Yousafzai said. "One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world."
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