Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai sits with her family and politician Marriyum Aurangzeb. (Reuters: Stringer)
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai has visited her birthplace in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, bursting into tears as she entered her childhood home for the first time since a Taliban gunman shot her in 2012.
The 20-year-old told a family friend she planned to return home after completing her education at Oxford, where she is reading for a degree in politics, philosophy and economics.
Roads were blocked off in the town of Mingora as Yousafzai, known universally by her first name, flew in by military helicopter with her parents and brother.
Security was tight around her former home, now rented by a family friend, Farid-ul-Haq Haqqani, who has kept the young woman’s room intact with her books, school trophies and luggage.
“They were weeping. They were kneeling on the ground. They were touching the mud with their eyes,” Mr Haqqani said of Malala and her family.
Children attend a class the school Malala Yousafzai used to attend. (Reuters: Faisal Mahmood)
He agreed to be interviewed inside the family home and pointed out a shelf in her room with books including Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors and Romeo and Juliet, as well as a copy of the television series Ugly Betty.
“I asked her when are you permanently coming back and she said ‘God willing, when my education is completed, I will God willing come back to Pakistan’,” Mr Haqqani said
He added that Malala chatted in her room with four friends from her school days in Swat, while her parents greeted neighbours who dropped by.
Malala has been visiting Pakistan since Thursday, her first trip home since she was shot and airlifted abroad for treatment.
The government and military have been providing security.
It had been uncertain whether she would be able to visit Swat, a scenic mountain region parts of which spent nearly two years under the control of Pakistani Taliban militants and their harsh interpretation of Islamic law, due to continued concerns for her safety.
“I miss everything about Pakistan … from the rivers, the mountains, to even the dirty streets and the garbage around our house, and my friends and how we used to have gossip … to how we used to fight with our neighbours,” Malala said in an interview on Friday.
“I had never been so excited for anything. I’ve never been so happy before.”
The Pakistani army wrested back control of Swat from the Taliban in 2009 and the area remains mostly peaceful, but the militants still occasionally launch attacks, including one on the military a few weeks ago.
The Taliban claimed responsibility in 2012 for the attack on Malala for her outspoken advocacy for girls’ education, which was forbidden under the militants’ rule over Swat.
In 2014, Malala became the youngest Nobel laureate, honoured for her work with the Malala Foundation, a charity she set up to support education advocacy groups with a focus on Pakistan, Nigeria, Jordan, Syria and Kenya.
Since her attack and recovery, she has led the Malala Fund in which she said has invested $6 million for schools and books and uniforms for schoolchildren.