Malala and Amina Yusif

"People weren't able to stop Malala, and they can't stop me."

When Amina Yusuf met the world’s most famous education activist, Malala Yousafzai, it had both a huge impact on her and a ripple effect on girls in Nigeria.

Amina Yusuf was one of five girls selected to join Malala Yousafzai when she accepted her Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. Amina, 18, received a scholarship from the Center for Girls’ Education, Population and Reproductive Health Initiative,  a collaboration between The Bixby Centre, University of California, Berkeley and the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria. She’s now a mentor at the centre and is on an unstoppable mission to make sure all girls get the same opportunities as her, especially when it comes to education.

When we met Amina, she laughed and pointed out that the fact that we were talking to her shows the huge progress that’s been made for girls already. We’re inclined to agree – here’s Amina’s story in her own words.

Watching Malala address the Nigerian government in Abuja was so impressive because some adults wouldn’t be able to be so spontaneous and speak how she did. She spoke to President Goodluck Jonathan about bringing back the 276 schoolgirls abducted in northeastern Nigeria in April 2014, and she convinced lawmakers in Nigeria to speak out to them. 

It was Malala’s 17th birthday. It was also the first time I met her. 

Malala personally selected me to go to Oslo and watch her accept her Nobel Peace Prize in what was my first trip out of Nigeria. I have never dreamt of even going to our neighbouring country, Niger, but because of her I got to travel as far as Oslo. When I got there, what really shocked me was the cold – I hadn’t experienced anything like that in my life! 

While I was there I realised that Malala’s award means that girls all over the world – including here in Nigeria – have won the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala’s voice is the voice of every girl in the world, and many girls tell me that because she invited me to join her in Oslo, they see Malala in me.

Malala’s Nobel Peace Prize win means that girls all over the world, including here in Nigeria, have won the Nobel Peace Prize.

The fact that a 17-year-old girl was able to draw the attention of the world to Oslo is inspiring. A girl from Pakistan with this influence is something the world leaders should support. At her age, where were most of our world leaders? What were they doing?

I want world leaders to consider attacks on girls’ education: Insurgency in Nigeria means that there is fear in my community and fear for girls’ safety. Before now, we all thought that school was the safest place but now it’s scary. I’ve heard that many girls in boarding schools have been taken out by their parents or organisations for security reasons. People are scared that their girls may be abducted too. I know that I’m scared too but it won’t stop me from doing what I aspire to do. People weren’t able to stop Malala, and they can’t stop me. 

I want a world where a girl or a woman can be what she wants to be. Any opportunity a male has, a female should have that opportunity too.

But these threats do add to the barriers girls face when it comes to getting an education – barriers such as poverty, being married off at the age of 12, badly equipped schools, sending boys to school over girls and badly trained teachers. I wouldn’t need a translator to do this interview if our primary schools were better.

I’m lucky to be in a family where my mother didn’t insist I went to sell things on the side of the street, or hawking as we call it. When the opportunity to go to school with CGE came along, I was able to get a scholarship and my parents happily allowed me to do that. Whenever I learnt anything at school I came home and told my family – my mother, father and seven brothers and sisters. Even now, in the CGE safe space club, whatever I learn about issues like hygiene, puberty and everything else, I not only extend the knowledge to my family but to neighbours’ children, too. It makes me feel that I am part of something good.  

Amina Yusif and her mother

Amina and her mother

I became a CGE mentor to give more girls opportunities. If it weren’t for that, maybe I would have been married off by my parents because they wouldn’t have been able to pay for my education. I now mentor 15 girls, aged between 11 and 14, and assist one of the senior CGE mentors. Every week I help with all the activities and mentor the girls about literacy, numeracy, life skills and reproductive health issues to help them better understand the opportunities they can access in life. When the attack was made on the Chibok girls, the CGE safe space clubs stayed open without any incidents which gave many girls in my community more courage to go to school. 

I’ve finished school but I’m getting more knowledge as a girl ambassador with Girl Hub Nigeria and I’m giving it back to others and becoming a better mentor in the process. I’m now studying at college where I’ll get a national certificate of education, and after that I’ll move on to my degree.

I want to start an organisation or a foundation where I’ll be the one helping to give scholarships to other girls like me. I want to become an advocate, just like Malala, and I want a world where a girl or a woman can be what she wants to be. Any opportunity a male has, a female should be able to have that opportunity too. 

My friends and all my younger brothers and sisters call me Malala now!

The Nigerian government needs to make girls’ education a priority, give schools proper equipment and employ well-trained teachers. If this happens, in five, ten or 20 years, poverty in northern Nigeria will have reduced, all girls and women will have access to good health education, and there will be less early marriage, along with its consequences. Girls will marry when they are ready, and all educated women will make sure that their girls get access to education. 

My meeting with Malala in Oslo was like a dream come true. The way people were treating Malala, me and the other girls – talking to us, wanting to take photographs with us – was amazing. My friends and all my younger brothers and sisters call me Malala now!

Photo of Amina and Malala by Tanya Malott for The Malala Fund.