‘Schoolgirl’ documentary gives new perspective

October 15th, 2009

In January 2009, the Taliban forced all schools for girls in Swat Valley, Pakistan to close.

Adam B. Ellick’s documentary, “A Schoolgirl’s Odyssey,” follows one 12-year-old Pakistani girl, Mallala, and her family as they face invasion of the Taliban in Swat and flee for safety, leaving behind dreams, possessions and their livelihoods. 

It is both heartbreaking and humbling to watch this young girl face such injustice and violence. The bravery and composure with which she discusses her world are endearing.  

She tells of her shattered dream of becoming a doctor and longs for her books, which she had to leave behind when her family left Swat.  

By comparison, my American cousins of Mallala’s age enjoy the Jonas Brothers, attend safe schools, and sleep comfortably in their own homes every night.  

Militants have never destroyed the homes of my neighbors or denied me the prospect of an education or career. Further, it seems unimaginable that my situation will change any time soon.  

For Mallala, life is much different and quite obviously filled with greater burdens than any of the burdens most middle school-aged students face in America. Her story should give us, as college students, a more optimistic and appreciative perspective on the present and future.  

Mallala’s father, Ziaudin, must live away from his family, who stay with relatives in another part of Pakistan, as he protests the Taliban’s presence in Swat. 

Taliban leaders publicly threaten his life, and when he returns to Swat after three months in exile, he finds that the school, which he operated for 14 years, was damaged and mistreated under the occupation of his own Pakistani military. Desks are heaped upon each other, walls are broken and the skulls of goats are behind the school’s sign, which was ripped down.  

Mallala’s brothers are disappointed to find their baby chickens  dead when they return. 

In days when our country cannot seem to agree on anything, it is stories like these by which, perhaps, we can reach a consensus. No 12-year-old should be stripped of her education, no family should  be separated to live in exile; and no one should have to experience seeing his or her city destroyed or find decomposing bodies of humans and animals in his streets and home.  

Stories like that of Mallala and her family are reminders that education and safety are not guaranteed. Furthermore, these luxuries must be preserved and appreciated, if for no other reason than to respect the crushed dreams of people all over the world who are denied those luxuries by no fault of their own.  

I encourage everyone to spend 20 minutes watching this video, which can be found online in the New York Times video library.