On May 13, Yousafzai will become one of five recipients of the 2017 International Ellis Island Medal of Honor from the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations. NECO writes that the award is meant to “recognize individuals who have made it their mission to share with those less fortunate their wealth of knowledge, indomitable courage, boundless compassion, unique talents and selfless generosity; all while maintaining the traditions of their ethnic heritage as they uphold the ideals and spirit of America.” While Yousafzai will not be able to attend the ceremony, she wrote the letter below to the coalition and its chairman, Nasser J. Kazeminy.
Dear Mr. Kazeminy and National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations,
Thank you for honoring me with the prestigious 2017 International Ellis Island Medal of Honor award. I am sorry I could not be with you for your ceremony, but I am still in secondary school and preparing for my final exams. However, even from thousands of miles away, I am proud to be in the company of my fellow 2017 recipients whose achievements as innovators and humanitarians are incredible gifts to the United States and our world.
Ellis Island was known as an “Island of Hope” for thousands of immigrants and refugees who journeyed to America for a chance at a new life. Today it stands as a reminder of a spirit of welcome for people in need, as well as the contributions of generations of immigrants and refugees. I wholeheartedly applaud NECO for its work to uphold these values.
Today millions of girls in refugee camps and conflict zones have lost their homes, friends, families and are unable to go to school. Yet despite these isolating challenges, the girls I’ve met remain hopeful that their futures will be brighter. They are waiting to be accepted into their own ‘island of hope’, whether that’s in the United States, Jordan, the United Kingdom, Germany, Greece, Canada or any other nation offering shelter and a chance to learn.
Through my work at Malala Fund, I stand committed to fighting for the rights of refugees and for a world where every girl has equal access to 12 years of free, safe quality education. And now more than ever, we must remain steadfast in our efforts.
The spirit of empathy that NECO embodies is one I hope countries around the world will emulate when responding to the refugee crisis. Together, we can be a powerful force for compassion and justice.
Thank you again for this remarkable honour.