-- Malala Yousafzai has proven she is stronger than a bullet after surviving a Taliban attack less than two years ago to become an international advocate for education.
Now, celebrating her 17th birthday in Nigeria to highlight the schoolgirls abducted by terrorist group Boko Haram, the Pakistani teen is asking others to share their strength on social media using the hashtag #strongerthan.
“We want to say that we are ‘stronger than,’” she said in an exclusive interview with ABC News. “So I say that I am stronger than fear. I am stronger than violence. I am stronger than terrorism. I am stronger than every kind of thing that stops me from getting education.”
Malala’s message gives much-needed hope to the families of the more than 200 missing schoolgirls in the country. Several who escaped from Boko Haram during the abduction say they, too, are stronger than their fear.
“So now I pray for God to leave me in this world, and help me understand – help my mother and father, go back to school,” Rebecca Ishaku, 18, said.
Kauna Bitrus, 17, said she is still too scared to go back to school, adding that she doesn’t want to see a book because it reminds her of what happened. But when asked whether one day she wanted to go back to school, Bitrus answered, “Yes,” adding, “I want to be a doctor.”
It’s a dream many of the young girls share. Three of the five schoolgirls ABC News spoke to said they wanted to become doctors.
“Hope is very important,” Malala said. “It is hope that is keeping me alive. It is hope that is making the fathers of those girls alive. And it is hope which is giving this strength to those girls who are in the abduction and it is hope that is giving strength to everyone in Nigeria.”
Malala said the bravery of the kidnapped students in Nigeria inspired her new #strongerthan campaign.
“I am hopeful that everyone will say that we are stronger than any kind of violence and fear,” she said.
Malala is also focusing on Nigeria because the country faces an education crisis, with the world’s worst national primary school attendance record. More than 10 million children in the country from ages 6 to 11 are not in school, with more than half of those children, 54 percent, girls.
Almost half of Nigeria’s population 15 years and older is illiterate, and nearly 8 million more women than men cannot read.
In an effort to help, Malala has launched a Nigerian education fund and will announce $200,000 in grants to local Nigerian-led organizations.
“The children need emergency help in their education,” Malala said. “We are giving them scholarships and we want them to get quality education, to get security, and to get safety as well.”
And with her new social media initiative, Malala hopes to empower people not just in Africa, but across the globe.
“There are so many issues around the world right now – sometimes it feels like you can’t do it, but I am trying my best,” she said. “I want to speak of the girls in Nigeria. I want to speak up for those who are homeless in Pakistan.
"I want to speak up for peace in Iraq and many other countries. So I have many, many dreams, and I have many, many goals. I hope that people will support me and people will support me in this campaign to see every child going to school and to see peace.”
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