A group of friends and fellow activists invited to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony on Wednesday have described how they have been inspired by the example of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager whose determination to receive an education provoked the Taliban to try and kill her.
Amina Yusuf, 17, a mentor for young girls at the Center for Girls’ Education in northern Nigeria, says she was impressed with Malala, whom she met in July when the young activist visited Nigeria. “She’s so calm,” Yusuf tells TIME by telephone from Oslo, Norway. “She has the spirit of an adult. When you see you her you think she is much older than her [actual] age.”
Yusuf is one of five young women invited by Malala to join her in Oslo on Wednesday.
Malala, 17, was awarded the prize jointly with 60-year-old children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced in October. Malala, who is the youngest Nobel Laureate in history, invited three champions of girls’ rights and two classmates from Pakistan who were on the bus with her when she was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012.
The two girls, Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz, were also shot during the attack on Malala in 2012, with Ramzan being hit in the shoulder and hand and Riaz in the arm. Riaz, who is now 17, describes the day as “the most horrible day of my life.” Speaking by phone from Oslo on Tuesday, Riaz tells TIME, “When I saw Malala covered in blood in the bus, then I forgot everything. It was the hardest time of my life.”
After Riaz and Ramzan, now 16, recovered from their injuries they won scholarships to attend Atlantic College in South Wales, an international residential school. But they’ve stayed in touch with Malala, who now attends school in Birmingham, England. “I am very happy to be here [in Oslo],” says Ramzan. “It’s an honor for Malala. Now she has more support in helping other people, in helping other children and every young student go to school.”
The other young activists that Malala has invited to join her in Oslo have also experienced extreme hardships at a young age and are working to make a difference for other girls. Mezon Almellehan is a 16-year-old Syrian refugee who lives with her family in a camp in Azraq, Jordan where she champions girls’ education within the camps. She met Malala earlier this year when Malala toured the large Syrian refugee camp, Za’atari, where Almellehan was living at the time.
And finally there’s Kainat Soomro, a 21-year-old sexual assault victims’ advocate from Pakistan. Soomro, who doesn’t speak English but spoke with TIME via a translator, said on Tuesday that she had met Malala in person for the first time that day. For Soomro, who was abducted and sexually assaulted by a group of men over a period of three days when she was 13, the meeting has been inspiring. Though she’s no stranger to activism — she has spent the last eight years fighting for justice in her own case in Pakistan — she says she has “learned so many things” from Malala and her fight for girls’ education. “Malala gave me courage,” she says. “[After speaking with her] I feel so much stronger than I did before.”
The young women tell TIME they are excited to be in Oslo — “It’s so cool,” notes Ramzan — but they all seem more thrilled to witness Malala receive one of the most prestigious awards in the world. “I am proud, she’s my friend,” says Riaz, who believes that Malala’s Peace Prize will help promote the rights of girls to have an education. “This is our mission. In the whole world — especially in Pakistan — everyone [should] get an education.”