Malala in America: Education advocate takes the US by storm ahead of speech in San Jose, California

The young Nobel Peace Prize winner's  admirers speak about why they'll be queuing to see her tonight at the multi-million dollar Event Centre Arena

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The Independent Online

She has filled-out arenas, prompted legions of fans wherever she has been, stormed the capital to speak with lawmakers, left a top talk-show host speechless – twice – has a 2013 best-selling autobiography, which is still lingering in the world book charts, and will appear in a docu-film about her life later this year.

With her trademark forename, it’s clear she has well and truly cracked America and the nation keeps on falling for her over and over.

She’s not a pop or rockstar-cum-humanitarian – but with her humble dupatta casually draped over her head – she is instantly recognisable as Malala: the girl who, at 15, took a Taliban bullet to the head when she dared to stand up for girls’ education.

Armed with a life-story worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, the 17-year-old Pakistani activist – and the youngest ever person to win the Nobel Peace Prize – has been in the US over the past week to spread the message which has taken the world by storm: books, not bullets.

Speaking loud, clear and confident, Malala to spoke to a 5,000-strong crowd in Denver, Colorado, on Wednesday evening and recalled that fateful day in October 2012 when the Taliban boarded her school bus in Pakistan.

Wearing a mask, she remembered, the gunman shouted: “Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all.” When she valiantly and unwaveringly stood up and replied: “I am Malala,” the gunman shot her in the head and fled.

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Malala was treated at Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital after she was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan in 2012

She told the Denver audience: “I really believed I had two options [that day]: one was to remain silent and wait to be killed – or speak up and then be killed.

“I chose the second one.”

The day of the Charleston church shooting was the day Malala was to appear on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to speak about her US trip and upcoming film, He Named Me Malala. Her words of comfort, and condolences, left an already subdued Stewart speechless.

Having already visited Congress in Capitol Hill On Tuesday, Malala urged lawmakers to invest more in education for young people, telling them: “It is time that a bold and clear commitment is made by the United States to increase funding and support governments around the world to provide 12 years of free primary and secondary education for everyone by 2030.”

A surprise visit en-route to the Denver speech took place when Malala visited inmates at the city’s high-security Women’s Correctional Facility where she encouraged the offenders to forgive and rehabilitate themselves and head down the path of learning.

Tonight, Malala is due to speak to a 4,000-strong crowd at San Jose State University’s multi-million dollar arena, the Event Centre.

One young student at the university, 19-year-old Fatema Elbakoury, can barely contain her excitement ahead of the talk as she tells San Jose Mercury News the influence Malala has had on her life: “I was raised Muslim in post-9/11 America and, at times, I doubted my own faith. But when Malala came into the picture, all of that changed for me.

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The 17-year-old visited Kenya last June to 'empower girls through education'

“Seeing how simultaneously liberated and devout she is taught me that Islam and feminism are not mutually exclusive.”

Deepika Verma, 26, moved to San Jose from  India and wouldn’t miss hearing Malala speak at the Event Centre tonight: “Because I’m a girl and I belong to a family that thinks girls should not get educated – that they should be kept home and take care of the family – I fought for my education.

“That's why I follow her. What she did is truly inspiring. It’s my dream that I should help girls get an education in my town in India.”

Shay Lari-Hosain admires Malala for telling President Obama last year that she disapproved of US drone strikes in Pakistan: “That’s the voice of our generation that’s telling people drone strikes shouldn’t happen.

“Malala is a huge force in combating the radicalisation and regressive conservatism that’s gaining traction in Pakistan. She’s an inspiration to me and many others because she gives us hope that we can make a difference.”

Izabel Cardoso, 12, who wants to “change the world as we know it” says: “She defied the rules about what people say children can do.”

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'Thank you to my father for not clipping my wings and for letting me fly' - Malala shows her medal during the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony in Oslo last year

“It’s weird to think that someone so powerful – who’s doing so much – is exactly your age,” 17-year-old Sara Ashary, tells the site.

“Here I am, sitting in math class, bored, and here’s Malala speaking to all these really powerful people and not even breaking a sweat. It’s crazy.

“My family is Pakistani so, whenever we get positive news about Pakistan, it’s a really joyful occasion for us.”

At tonight’s lecture – which will be hosted by the author of the best-selling novels The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini will, no doubt, recall his visit to a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan last month – where he met a youngster dubbed ‘the Syrian Malala’.

“I met a 16-year-old Syrian girl there named Muzoon who had met Malala when she visited the camp,” Hosseini recalled.

“This girl felt so inspired by Malala – and saw so much of herself in Malala – that she now goes around the camp from shelter to shelter and advocates education for girls. She speaks out against child labour and against early marriage.

“In the middle of nowhere – in a remote part of the world – here was an example of just how inspiring Malala can be.”

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