“ALWAYS believe in yourself” – those were the words of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai as she visited Carlton Junior and Infant School in Batley Carr this week.
The 20-year-old is the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate, winning the global accolade at the age of just 17 in 2014 for her advocacy of female education and human rights.
Malala was at the junior school to unveil a wall decoration featuring one of her most famous quotes: “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”
She was shot in 2012 by a Taliban gunman while on a bus after taking an exam in her native Pakistan, where girls were banned from attending school.
The attack was in retaliation to her activism, which has since grown into an international movement and made her one of the most influential young people in the world.
And it was by chance that headteacher Rizwana Mahmood discovered that the Oxford student had a distant link with the school on Upper Road.
Ms Mahmood said: “I was on my daily walk through the school and when in the Year 2 classroom I saw one of the children had Malala’s autograph in his book.
“When I asked how he had managed to get it, I was amazed to hear she was a family friend.”
Seven-year-old Ahmed Shah’s mum Maryam used to teach Malala in Pakistan. Maryam was there to reunite with Malala and witness Ahmed and sister Hannah present her with a special Sheaffer pen to mark the occasion. The pupils had the chance to ask Malala questions in an assembly, and she was accompanied by her parents Ziauddin and Toor Pekai.
She said to the children: “Always believe in yourself, be proud of who you are and always work hard. Try and do something for the world, whether big or small.”
Ms Mahmood added: “This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for our children in Dewsbury to meet a Nobel Peace Prize winner who was once an ordinary schoolgirl.
“Malala is a great role model for the children, especially the girls and their mothers.
“As an Asian female leader, I too have faced challenges and can relate in a small way to Malala and share the same aspirations for children to aspire to achieve their goals.”