I Am Malala

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In her powerful memoir, Malala Yousafzai writes about childhood in Pakistan and the events that led up to her being shot by the Taliban. Her advocacy for education of children, especially young girls, has made her the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate. This memoir gives the reader a unique glimpse into her story from her perspective.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Malala was a fairly ordinary girl living in the Swat valley in Pakistan. She went to a school where her father was the principal. Eventually, though, the Taliban who began to infiltrate the area said that young girls were not allowed to go to school. Malala refused to accept this, and with her parents’ support and blessing, she continued to not only go to school but to speak out on behalf of the education of all girls.

“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”

Malala Yousafzai

Her father was a strong advocate of education, and the two of them traveled and shared the difficulties that the area they lived in faced under the Taliban. When a journalist began to publish anonymous letters about life in Pakistan that were written by Malala, they were read by those around the world. Eventually, though, her anonymous cover was blown (accidentally by her own father) and the Taliban set in motion a plan to kill her. One day, they got on the bus she was on and shot. The damage was extensive, and Malala woke up in a hospital in England where she was able to receive better care. Her family was relocated to England where they would be safe to continue to advocate for education away from the grasp of the Taliban.

Malala is an ordinary human doing extraordinary things.

Malala writes about ordinary things like arguing with her brothers and having problems with her best friend. Although she insists that her brothers start all of the fights, she admits that those fights exist and are a part of her life. Her arguments with her best friend are not glossed over, nor are her temporary lapses in judgement during some of these fights. Malala does not paint herself as a girl who was born a saint, but rather an ordinary girl who was given an amazing opportunity to speak up for what she believes in.

“I don’t want to be thought of as the ‘girl who was shot by the Taliban’ but the ‘girl who fought for education.’ This is the cause to which I want to devote my life.”

Malala Yousafzai

It is easy to look at people like Malala who have done great things and think, “I could never do that.” Malala won a Nobel Peace Prize at an age when my greatest accomplishment was getting my driver’s license. While we may not all receive a Nobel Peace Prize for the peace that we bring to the world around us, we can all work together as ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Sometimes in a world filled with so much darkness, a small act of kindness can begin to make change in the world around us.

Quick Review:

For a book written by a young adult, I Am Malala is very well-written. I have heard about Malala for years without knowing enough about what happened to her, and hearing her story in her own words was a rewarding experience. It was a great story, and my only real complaint was short areas of repetitiveness.

Every Falling Star

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Every Falling Star is the heartbreaking and inspirational memoir of Sungju Lee, who grew up in North Korea. After living in privileged Pyongyang and wholeheartedly believing in their communist leader, at the age of ten he must face the realities of communism in a poorer town after his father falls out of favor with the regime.

Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee & Susan McClelland
Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee & Susan McClelland

After moving to this poorer town, Sungju received criticism from his classmates for being unaware of the conditions they had been living in all along. He quickly realized that his father had not been sent to this area “on vacation” like he had been told, but that he must have fallen out of favor in some way. Both of his parents refuse to tell him what happened, and after some time, his father headed north to China looking for food. When he doesn’t return, his mother left as well, headed to a nearby town to see if an aunt has food to spare. This left young Sungju on his own to fend for himself.

“Morality is a great song a person sings when he or she has never been hungry.”

Sungju Lee

Over the next several years, Sungju learned to steal from the street vendors in order to feed himself. He and a friend from his new town joined together with a few other boys to create a gang. When the town they were in became too overrun with boys stealing, they began to travel. Along the way, two of the boys died because of the violence they faced on the streets. After several years, Sungju finds his grandfather, who had never stopped looking for him. After that, a man came to take him to China, where he was to transported to South Korea, a place he always feared. There he was finally reunited with his father and given a chance for a future.

What I loved most about this book was that it gave a message of hope, despite its darkness.

There was a lot of darkness. There were fights with knives. There was the use of alcohol and drugs to forget the pain. At one point, boys who should hardly know what sex even is were selling women so that they could have money for food. It was terribly heartbreaking to think of the conditions that these boys had to live through.

“I think the worst thing anyone can do is make them stop believing in something higher, something good, something pure, a reason for everything–hope, maybe. God, maybe.”

Sungju Lee

However, despite all of the loss that Sungju suffered and all of the terrible things he had to do to survive, he never lost hope that he would be reunited with his family. When his grandfather initially found him, he was so hardened by the streets that he had wanted to steal from him. When Sungju realized that it really was his grandfather, the hope that it gave him was so great that it broke through years of unimaginable pain and violence. He began to hope even more for all of his family to be reunited.

When Sungju arrived in South Korea he was terrified because he had grown up being told that they would feed him well, and then after he had told them secrets about North Korea, they would kill him. He was angry with his father for not finding him sooner. He was upset that his father would deceive him into coming to a place like South Korea. However, when he was reunited with his father, he found out that his father had never stopped looking for him. In the same way, they still do not stop looking for his mother. They have hope, after all of this time that she can still be found. They spend what money they have trying to find her.

Sungju has now gone to college and graduate school. He hopes to work toward the reunification of North and South Korea. He believes that the two countries can be unified, and has dedicated his education to this end. He has worked in and with embassies to learn and grow as a person and a leader, with the hope that his new experiences, paired with his old experiences, will help him to bring peace to these two countries he has grown to love.

Find Me Unafraid

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This book changed the way I think about charity work. It was not just another inspirational story about a person who did something great, but a story about two people from entirely different worlds who came together to change an African slum.

Find Me Unafraid by Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner
Find Me Unafraid by Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner

Kennedy was born in an African slum and Jessica was born into middle class America. Their lives couldn’t be any more different. While Jessica lived a life of relative comfort, Kennedy was beaten by his step-father. He found solace in learning from a neighbor who could afford school and a priest who would later use his trusted position to sexually abuse him. He ran away from home at the age of ten and joined a gang. He then worked hard labor and watched friends die on the streets and kill themselves from the despair they felt because of the hard lives they were living.

“There’s a theory that cycles of poverty perpetuate and self-replicate in part because of despair. People feel hopeless, and then engage in self-destructive behaviors that make that hopelessness self-fulfilling. The implication, and there’s a fair amount of evidence emerging for this, is that the way to break cycles of poverty is to give people hope–and in the largest sense, that’s what Kennedy and Jess are doing.”

Nicholas Kristof

At the age of sixteen, Kennedy used the extra twenty cents that he had to purchase a soccer ball so that the people in the community would have something positive to do. It started with a soccer ball and grew, but Kennedy’s vision of Shining Hope for Communities was born. He convinced friends and community members to “buy into” the idea that they could change their community in ways that did not cost much, if anything. They started by picking up trash and speaking out against abuse. It grew, until at the age of 23, it was a movement that provided dignified jobs for women. It was at this time that Jessica studied in Kenya for a semester and met Kennedy.

Jessica’s life changed. She fell in love with Kennedy and the slums of Kenya. She went back to America and helped Kennedy get a scholarship so he could get a college education. Together, they would eventually build a school for girls and a medical clinic. Kennedy’s knowledge of the community and Jessica’s ability to garner outside financial support made them a powerful team.

“Without mutual understanding and real community leadership, foreign-led interventions ultimately do not succeed, creating false hopes and taking advantage of the community’s vulnerability.”

Kennedy Odede

Buy-in from locals is necessary for the long-term success of works of charity.

This book broke my heart. I found myself weeping at the brokenness written in these pages, and the desire to do more about some of the things that are wrong around the world. I also became increasingly aware of how sometimes we as Americans forget that those around the world have the same intelligence and potential that we do. It is heartbreaking to think that perhaps the brightest scientists, doctors, or teachers might be dying of hunger in a slum in another part of the world because of the greed and ignorance of those in the wealthiest parts of the world.

“One of the cruelest aspects of this place is simply the wasted human potential, the brilliance and creativity that exists. It shouldn’t be impossible to break out of poverty–talent and hard work should matter–but here they don’t.”

Jessica Posner

The thing that changed me the most, though, was the idea that no matter where I go to do ministry, it is important to partner with someone who is local to the area. Ohio is not so different from the part of California where I grew up. However, there are differences. People can usually tell I did not grow up here, and there are shared histories of people who have lived here in small town Ohio for generations. Partnering with, learning from, and working alongside those who live and know the area better than I ever could will make my ministry richer than I could ever imagine.

While there might be an implied recommendation to a lot of my blog posts, I want to very explicitly recommend this book. While there is some mature content and it is heartbreaking to get through, this is one of those books that will change you. It is worth your time. Though it has not been long since I read it, I already want to read it again. Not many books make me feel like that.

A Girl Named Faithful Plum

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I picked up this charming and inspirational biography at the last minute when I realized that the book I had planned for this week’s post wasn’t going to work because it had too much graphic content for me. Though this book was an impulsive read, it was also an enjoyable one, especially compared to what I had been reading.

A Girl Named Faithful Plum by Richard Bernstein
A Girl Named Faithful Plum by Richard Bernstein

This book covers the journey of young Zhongmei Li from a rural part of China all the way to an open audition in the Beijing Dance Academy, and into her first year as a dance student there. Although the reader knows that she will make it through each trial she faces and become a famous and talented dancer, everything that young Zhongmei faces is so unbelievable that it seems that she won’t make it through.

One of the most amazing parts of this book was that Zhongmei’s journey started at the age of eleven. At such a young age, she traveled across the country, away from her family, to pursue her dream. She then worked harder than many adults (myself included) do to achieve her dream.

Zhongmei Li’s tale is one that inspires hope and hard work.

I found Zhongmei’s spirit and determination absolutely inspirational. Even though there were times where she felt like she was going to be kicked out of school for being one of the worst dancers, she did not let that stop her. Instead, she woke up early and practiced harder. She worked harder than her peers and ended up being one of the most famous dancers in China, eventually traveling to the United States where she met her husband, the author of this book.

My only complaint about this book is that it ended. I would have loved to have had such an in-depth look at the other years of her education, as well as her career and how she met and fell in love with her husband, Richard Bernstein. From the “About the Author” section, I know they also have a child together. Though her first year ended up having a happy ending, I would have loved to hear about the rest of her life.

This book was a nice light read, especially after something as heavy as The Girl Behind the Door from last week. Even though it had its tense moments, it had a happy ending and those tense moments often ended up working out in Zhongmei’s favor. It was hopeful, inspirational, and a feel-good read.