Unrivaled courage

Published: December 30, 2014

The girl who lived

Exactly two years after being shot in the head by the Taliban and surviving, Malala Yousafzai became the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize in October this year.

Malala’s fight for the right to education took her from her serene hometown of Swat to the far corners of the world where she spoke in favour of education and women’s rights. A brazen attempt on her life and harsh criticism from her countrymen has not deterred the teenager.

“This award is not just for me. It is for those forgotten children who want education. It is for those frightened children who want peace. It is for those voiceless children who want change,” she said in her acceptance speech.

“I am here to stand up for their rights, raise their voice … it is not time to pity them. It is time to take action so it becomes the last time that we see a child deprived of education.”

The hero of Hangu

With a single act of valour in the face of terror, teenager Aitzaz Hasan Bangash became the face of Pakistan’s fight against militancy. The 15-year-old was a student of grade nine at Ibrahimzai High School in Hangu. On January 7, 2014, he prevented a suicide bomber from entering his school and laid his life for hundreds of his schoolmates.

Aitzaz had reached school late that day and was standing outside as punishment with two schoolmates when a young man approached the school. One of the students spotted a detonator and as others ran to safety, Aitzaz stood firm and tackled the bomber who detonated his suicide vest.

After bowing down to a social media campaign, President Mamnoon Hussain awarded him Sitara-e-Shujaat on March 23, 2014.

A star that no longer shines

She was only 20, but Saba Gul never shied away from the responsibility of being the sole earner of her family. Her life was cut short when a suicide bomber targeted an FC convoy near Peshawar Press Club.

Her 60-year-old father was left devastated that his daughter happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. “She worked as a helper in a school and was the only earning member of the family,” Noor Muhammad had said at the time. “I have five sons and four daughters. She was better than any of my sons and bravely supported the family, including me and her younger siblings.”  Saba and her sister, both of whom suffered from asthma, were headed to the hospital when the explosion claimed her life. Her sister escaped unhurt.

The guardian of childhood

On December 16, Muhammad Bilal, a watchman at Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar, stood in the line of fire to prevent schoolchildren from falling victim to the militant’s gun.

When the school came under attack, he risked his safety and escorted six children, who had taken shelter in the restroom, to safety.

Bilal laid down his life to guard children who probably did not notice him at the school’s gate. In death, he has proved how a single sacrifice can ensure the happiness of several families.  As gut-wrenching accounts of valour continue to surface in the wake of the Peshawar school carnage, his heroic sacrifice stands the risk of being forgotten. Whether anyone else remembers him or not, the parents of those six children and the nation will be forever indebted to him.

She left behind a sea of inspiration

Standing steady like a shield for her students, Tahira Qazi proved to be a true mentor when terror hit Peshawar’s Army Public School on December 16.

The principal of APS had been teaching at the school since 2006. The building’s walls will now always echo the presence of a teacher who set aside her own safety to save the lives of children.

Being one of the first to face the brutal attackers, Qazi’s body was found hours after the day-long operation against militants ended.

The sacrifice of Qazi has left her daughter and two sons sans the love of a mother, creating a void which can never be filled.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 31st, 2014.

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