2017-01-26 / Around Town

‘Each One of You Could Be the Next Malala’

By Betsy Sherman Walker

On Thursday, Jan. 19, the full count of sixth-graders from Thompson Middle School attended a screening at the Jane Pickens Theater of “He Named Me Malala,” hosted in part by Newport Rotary. Rotarian Donna Maytum welcomed the students and spoke about Rotary’s mission, which, she explained, is to promote peace worldwide through understanding and good will. Friends of Jane Pickens donated the theater, and Rotary members worked the popcorn concession.

The 2015 documentary tells the story about the young Pakistani girl who in 2012 survived an assassination attempt by members of the local Taliban. Discussion on the stage afterward was led by Lisa Olaynack, a sixth-grade English and language arts teacher, and Zoe Butler of Portsmouth. Inspired by the story of Malala Yousafzai, Butler helped found a human rights awareness club while a student at Portsmouth Abbey. Now a freshman at Brown, this was her second year up on the stage.

Butler said that Malala’s offense, in the eyes of the Taliban, was her outspoken determination to “help [other] girls to read and be educated.” Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, an educator and an activist, is also a Rotarian. At the time of the attack, he was an active member of the Rotary Club of Mingora Swat.

Last July, prior to Malala’s speaking engagement at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, Butler was invited to meet both Malala and her father. She told the students, “We talked about Pokemon Go, food and boys. We ate pizza and curried chicken.”

Ziauddin, she said, was “silly in real life.” On a more serious note, one student wanted to know how Malala was able to remain so strong, knowing that there are still death threats. “She is so enthralled and invested,” said Butler, “that the thought of a threat is not in the forefront of her mind.”

On the eve of the Jan. 20 inauguration, talk of activism was in the air. Like Malala (minus the death threats), Butler announced she was going to D.C. for the Women’s March on Washington.

“Each one of you,” she told the students, “could be the next Malala.”

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