Nobel Peace Prize laureate and leading Pakistani girls' education advocate Malala Yousafzai returned to Pakistan on Thursday for the first time since being brutally attacked by Taliban militants in 2012. Yousafzai, who is now 20 years old, was just 15 when a Taliban gunman shot her in the head as she made her way home from school one day. She landed in Pakistan's capital Islamabad for what is expected to be a four-day visit.
"I still can't believe that it is actually happening and this is true," an emotional Yousafzai said in a speech at the prime minister's office in Islamabad that involved a mix of English and Urdu. "I have always been dreaming, for the last five years, that I can return to my country. Whenever I've been traveling, when I see the cities of London and New York, I'm always imagining that I am traveling to Pakistan's cities."
Yousafzai arrived in Islamabad to a heavy security presence. Although the details of her visit have been kept relatively quiet, The New York Times has reported the Pakistani girls' education advocate is expected to visit her childhood home in the Swat Valley, as well as the site of her attack. However, most of Yousafzai's visit will include visits in Islamabad with friends and family, Pakistani officials, the media, and other activists.
In an emotional speech, Yousafzai said she'd long dreamed of returning to her homeland and carrying out day-to-day to activities "like driving in Islamabad" or in Karachi. "It was never true," Yousafzai said before becoming choked with tears and covering her face with her hands. "At last, when I am in Pakistan, it makes me very happy."
The education advocate went on to say she'd never thought to leave Pakistan before her attack. "I am just 20 years old, but I have seen a lot in life," Yousafzai said, per The Times. "I never wanted to leave my country."
Yousafzai was already a well-known advocate for girls' education in the country when she was attacked. Roughly four years earlier, she'd begun writing anonymously for BBC about life under Taliban rule. In October 2012, militants specifically targeted her in what was clearly an attempt to silence her. But Yousafzai miraculously survived being shot in the head, and, following specialized treatment in both Peshawar and the United Kingdom, has continued her efforts to fight for increased access to education for girls.
In 2013, she delivered a powerful speech at the United Nations, and later found the Malala Fund that same year. In 2014, at the age of 17, Yousafzai became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her advocacy work. At age 19, she became the youngest United Nations Messenger of Peace. She now studies philosophy, politics, and economics at Oxford University.
Speaking at the prime minister's office Thursday, Yousafzai reaffirmed her commitment to advocating for women and girls' education in her home country. "I continued my education in the U.K., but I always wanted to move freely in Pakistan," she said, as reported by The Washington Post. "I want to invest in the education of children. Pakistani women should be empowered." According to The New York Times, Yousafzai is expected to open a girls' school currently being built with help from the Malala Fund in Pakistan's Shangla district.
Despite the shortness of her visit and the gruesomeness of her attack, the young activist said her return home was a happy one. "It's the most happiest day of my life that I am back to my country and meeting my people," Yousafzai said, according to The Washington Post.