They came from Serbia, the Middle East, Chicago, and New York. Fifteen young women with one dream: to meet their idol, teen activist Malala Yousafzai.
“Malala Yousafzai is a giraffe,” Chloe Schneider, 12, wrote in a school essay about how Malala “stuck her neck out” and “taught children all over to stand up and fight for what they believe.”
Malala Yousafzai, the 17-year-old who was shot in the head on Oct. 9, 2012, by the Taliban for advocating for girls education in Pakistan, was in New York for the publication of the young readers edition of her book, “I Am Malala.”
Chloe was one of more than a dozen young students, ages 7 to 17, selected to be on the set of “Good Morning America” when Malala was interviewed by ABC News’ Amy Robach. They were chosen because of their involvement with groups like the U.N. Foundation’s Girl Up and Girls Who Code, a non-profit devoted to reaching gender parity in the technology industry.
In the greenroom backstage before the taping, the girls were nervous and excited. They treated Malala like a celebrity. “She’s so pretty,” one girl said. “I wonder what her favorite color is?” asked another. Others whispered, “I hope she’ll sign our books.”
Asked why she believes so strongly in Malala’s cause, Gillian Schneider, 14, said she looks up to Malala because “she showed women and girls all over that they have a voice and when used, they can make a change in the world.”
Elena Avramovic, 13, said, “Malala can be anyone’s idol because everybody deserves the right to an education -- girls and boys everywhere.”
All the girls had questions for Malala, including Joyce Gomez, 17, of Girls Who Code, who asked: “How are you so brave?”
“I think that bravery is when you overcome your fears and when you think that yes, you can stand up for your rights and you can speak," Malala answered. “So I think you all are brave because you are joining these campaigns for education. You are struggling your best. … We just need to recognize the abilities we have, the talents we have and you all are brave.”
Razan Nasser, 13, who attends the UN International School, wanted to know: “What can privileged girls such as ourselves do to help your cause?”
“I think the role of every person in society is very important,” said Malala. “If there is one child that we know about who is deprived of education and who needs our help, I think we should definitely support that child. …There are artists, there are musicians, there are poets and so many other people who can motivate children all over the world through their beautiful voices-- to come and continue their learning and stand up for it.”
The young girls took Malala’s words to heart.
“All my life I have had trouble standing up for myself and for other people, and [Malala] inspires me and other people like me to do this no matter the cost,” Chloe said.
Although still in high school, Malala has become an international icon for people of all ages. For the second year in a row, Malala was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and should she be awarded, she will be the youngest recipient of the award by over a decade. She also co-founded the Malala Fund.
As the girls gathered their belongings and headed home, they seemed almost awestruck. More than one was heard saying, “I wish I could be more like Malala.”