Hero on our Radar: Shiza Shahid

Shiza Shahid, Zooey Magazine Shiza Shahid, Zooey Magazine

At 24, Shiza Shahid already has a growing list of achievements that others are still striving for at twice her age. She was recently listed in Time Magazine’s ’30 Under 30 World Changers,’ she’s made headlines in just about every reputable news outlet in 2013, and she helped to break many barriers that prevent girls from going to school in Pakistan through her nonprofit ‘Malala Fund’, which she founded with her friend Malala Yousafzai. While her name may not yet be familiar to the general public, perhaps because the media has been too occupied with Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber’s whereabouts, Shiza will surely become a household name.

Having jumped off a plane at LAX, and from another meeting regarding her nonprofit, Shiza sat down with me for a quick chat at a quaint café off of Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles. After her every word, she left me dumbstruck…and I’m a difficult person to impress. “So we’re soul mates,” she says after I agreed with her thoughts on education, the new generation, and the fight for women’s rights. I could only dare to sheepishly mumble with eagerness, “yes.”

After Malala’s attempted assassination in 2012 by the Taliban, the world stirred as her recovery was anticipated. The constant flow of love and support for this 15-year-old was overwhelming and incredibly moving. What did she do to provoke such a crime? She wanted to attend school, and she wanted to help her friends gain the opportunity too. Malala began writing in 2009 under a pseudonym for the BBC, where she detailed her life under the Taliban rule and the Swat Valley’s girls’ growing desire to educate themselves. Hundreds of girls’ schools were being destroyed by the Taliban, and Malala herself was barred from attending her own school.

Having read story after story about Malala, I just could not understand the justice behind this incident. I did realize this: Education is a powerful weapon, and therefore, the Taliban feared this young teenager. A group as powerful as the Taliban had to focus their efforts on assassinating a 15-year-old girl, and that just says one thing - Malala can bring down a terrorist group with something as priceless as her voice.

As the years progressed, Malala continued to fight for girls’ education and she made her name known across many countries including England and America. Shiza, who was attending Stanford University at the time, discovered Malala from a documentary created by Adam B. Ellick of the New York Times. Having been moved by the teenager’s bravery and will power, Shiza contacted Malala to ensure that she and her family was safe. When they met, Shiza was astounded by the young girl and from then, they became great friends and business partners through their nonprofit charity that they founded together.

This year, Malala made a press tour around the world to speak against the Taliban in her country, and promoted education. She attracted the attention of both the political and Hollywood worlds, including prominent names like President Obama, Queen Elizabeth II, Madonna, and Angelina Jolie to name a few.

While many would take a leave of absence, especially having to endure something as traumatic as getting vehemently injured, Malala made it her responsibility to lead a revolution for education and Shiza is the woman helping to fuel the incredible movement.

Shiza handles the finances, manages the organizations’ plans and goals, mentors Malala, and beyond. She’s also become nearly nomadic with the amount of traveling she does to guarantee Malala Fund’s success. When I asked her about what her own personal goals, other than the organization’s, she answered, “I just want to make sure that I do my best in helping to bring education to girls, and I want to see Malala Fund grow. I don’t think it’ll ever be as big as organizations like UNICEF, but I want Malala Fund to help bring these issues to other major groups’ attention so we can make sure all girls have the opportunity to go to school.”

“I don’t think I even deserved for Time to award me with such a title,” she says regarding Time Magazine listing her in their reputable World Changers roster. “There are far more people who deserve to be heard, I’m just one of the lucky ones who have the opportunity. Malala deserved the Nobel Peace Prize... and she deserves to have millions of followers on social media.” Yet our culture pries more on risqué Hollywood society then we do with what truly matters.

Her selflessness puts things to perspective. As she and Malala lead this fight for something as simple as education, a basic human right in my eyes, I can’t help but review America’s own residents and feel alarmed as to what our families and their children value.

From my perspective, far too many children here in America cherish time with their iPads and iPhones yet they blatantly ignore the vitality of school. I don’t think I’ll ever be used to the growing amount of technology that is used throughout all generations, and especially toddlers’ profound knowledge of app consumption. When I asked Shiza about this issue, she attributes it to the school systems. “I don’t know much about American schools, but I think Americans have this mindset where they value things like mathematics over art or dance. People think mathematics is more beneficial, and therefore they eliminate those extra curricular activities leaving children with subjects that they may find to be burdens. People don’t allow for children to explore their creative sides and their full potentials, so we deprive them the fun of learning.”

What people don’t realize is, education isn’t just about learning how to punch numbers, or how to decipher a Robert Frost poem. Educating a girl helps to empower her, to help her understand her abilities and how to use them outside the classroom in order to change her world and to change the world around her... for the better. Malala Fund is doing just that; the organization is giving girls the opportunity to use their voices to demand change and to triumph in their future endeavors. And this is why Shiza and Malala are considered the game changers of our future.

When Shiza spoke, this alluring air just happens to be evoked... making it easy to be persuaded by her words. This allure is her confidence, her charm, and her wits. When she told me of her story and her dream of changing the course of girls’ education, I couldn’t help but drop my jaw out of utter amazement. “Wow, that was a mouthful wasn’t it?” she laughs as she concluded her response. I was speechless.

This article was published in Issue 19
Story // Lucia Tran Photography // Entwined Studios