Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai visited her birthplace in Pakistan’s Swat Valley Saturday, bursting into tears as she entered her childhood home for the first time since a Taliban gunman shot her in 2012.
The 20-year-old told a family friend she planned to return home after completing her education at Oxford, where she is studying toward a degree in politics, philosophy and economics.
Roads were blocked off in the town of Mingora as Yousafzai, known universally by her first name, flew in by military helicopter with her parents and brother.
Security was tight around her former home, now rented by a family friend, Farid-ul-Haq Haqqani, who has kept the young woman’s room intact with her books, school trophies and luggage.
“They were weeping. They were kneeling on the ground. They were touching the mud with their eyes,” Haqqani said of Malala and her family.
He agreed to be interviewed inside the family home and pointed out a shelf in her room with books including Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors” and “Romeo and Juliet” as well as a copy of the television series “Ugly Betty.”
“I asked her when are you permanently coming back and she said ‘God willing, when my education is completed, I will God willing come back to Pakistan.’”
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He added that Malala chatted in her room with four friends from her school days in Swat, while her parents greeted neighbors who dropped by — since the security detail would not allow her to go to other houses or even up on the roof of her home.
Malala has been visiting Pakistan since Thursday, her first trip home since she was shot and airlifted abroad for treatment. The government and military have been providing security.
It had been uncertain whether she would be able to visit Swat — a scenic mountain region parts of which spent nearly two years under the control of Pakistani Taliban militants and their harsh interpretation of Islamic law — due to continued concerns for her safety.
“I miss everything about Pakistan ... from the rivers, the mountains, to even the dirty streets and the garbage around our house, and my friends and how we used to have gossip ... to how we used to fight with our neighbors,” Malala told Reuters in an interview Friday.
“I had never been so excited for anything. I’ve never been so happy before,” she said of returning to Pakistan.
‘Weapon of education’
Two security officials told Reuters the trip to Swat would likely be just for one day.
Another family friend, Jawad Iqbal Yousafzai, who is from the same Pashtun clan as Malala, said the family also visited a local army cadet college.
The Pakistani army wrested control of Swat back from the Taliban in 2009 and the area remains mostly peaceful, but the militants still occasionally launch attacks, including one on the military a few weeks ago.
The Taliban claimed responsibility in 2012 for the attack on Yousafzai for her outspoken advocacy for girls’ education, which was forbidden under the militants’ rule over Swat.
She wrote an anonymous blog for the BBC Urdu service as a schoolgirl during the Taliban rule and later became outspoken in advocating more educational opportunities for girls.
In 2014, Malala became the youngest Nobel laureate, honored for her work with the Malala Foundation, a charity she set up to support education advocacy groups with a focus on Pakistan, Nigeria, Jordan, Syria and Kenya.
In March, a new girls’ school built with her Nobel prize money opened in the village of Shangla in Swat Valley.
“The people of Swat and the whole of Pakistan are with Malala,” Jawad Iqbal Yousafzai said.
“God willing, we will counter the terrorism and extremism in our region with the weapon of education, with the weapon of a pen, with the weapons of teachers and with the weapons of books.”
Haqqani said Malala and her brother requested to be sent dried plums from a tree in the garden once they were harvested.
The family visit lasted about 90 minutes, he said.
“They were leaving the house slowly. They were dragging their feet. They were coming back inside again and again,” he said.