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Maryam and Nivaal talk about interviewing their gender equality heroes

Maryam and Nivaal Rehman | Ottawa, Canada

Article first published on the Girl Up and MalalaFund Blogs | April 20th, 2017

When we woke up around 4:45 AM on Wednesday, April 12th, we couldn’t believe that the big day had finally come. Malala Yousafzai, was coming to Canada to receive honorary Canadian citizenship, and we had been invited by the Malala Fund to join Malala in Ottawa for her Girl Power Trip’s stop in Canada.

We have always believed that anyone can make a difference if they set their minds to it, but meeting Malala and Prime Minister Trudeau reassured us that this was true.

We had expected to be overwhelmed by meeting them, that we would forget our whole script and be speechless. Instead, they had been so incredibly down to earth and welcoming, that our nervousness faded away during our interview instead.

After we were done, our friends and family asked, “Were you scared?” or “Were you nervous?” And to that, all we could say, was how we enjoyed ourselves more than being nervous or scared. Both Prime Minister Trudeau and Malala didn’t make themselves appear to be more important or special than us, but rather treated us as if we were just as important as them. It was at that time that we realized, how everyone is equally important in this fight for gender equality and everyone can make a difference.

One of the first questions that many of our friends and family asked us when we had told them the news, was how we had gotten selected. How did the “twin activists” they knew end up visiting Ottawa to interview the Prime Minister of Canada and Malala Yousafzai? Well, it started with an event we had organized at our school for International Women’s Day with our Girl Up club. We held a screening of He Named Me Malala and got in touch with the staff at Malala Fund to organize a Skype discussion after the film.

Malala Fund had also seen our YouTube channel, The World With MNR, which features the different ways that we are changing the world and encouraging others to do the same. It had been a dream of ours to use our channel to reach a bigger audience and empower even more people. Before that, we had been activists since we were eight years old and visited a girls’ government school (that our grandmother had donated the land to build) in our village in Pakistan for the first time. We had begun to encourage the girls who would have otherwise quit school to support their families in grade five, to continue their education. In 2015, after five years, some girls went on to high school.

The idea of interviewing Malala and Prime Minister Trudeau was truly an honor and an opportunity to encourage our audience to support girls’ and women’s equality even further. We were on a mission to represent our school and community as well, and do a good job in our interview.

One of our first stops of the day was hearing Malala give her address to Canadian Parliament. Hearing her speak in person for the first time was spectacular.

Before the interview, we tried to calm ourselves down by trying not to think about how we were going to finally meet two of our gender equality heroes, Malala and Prime Minister Trudeau! This was also going to be an interview over Facebook Live, so no pressure, right? After a long walk, we finally arrived at the steps of the Canadian Parliament. The moments leading up to the interview were filled with a lot of emotions. We practiced a few more times before we were invited to one of the rooms near the Prime Minister’s office to meet Malala and her family. We looked at each other once before taking a deep breath and entering the room where she was sitting.

Meeting Malala was surreal. She spoke to us about school, how she liked our hijab style and we discussed whether we were near-sighted or not (which, we learned from her, is called short-sighted in England). She also asked us when our birthday was, what we wanted to be when we were older and other things that you can discuss with teenagers when you meet them for the first time.

Perhaps that was the best thing about meeting her. She was so down to earth, and never made us feel as if we were in the presence of a world leader, but rather, with a friend.

Finally, Prime Minister Trudeau came into the room. We shook hands and he thanked us for volunteering to do this. We thanked him for having us, not knowing how to respond to his kindness. It was overwhelming, but within the next few moments we were directed to our positions and heard the team say, “We’re live.” As we said the words, we were constantly reminding ourselves where we were, standing next to two of our role models, but they both had such welcoming personalities that we were no longer nervous. It was a huge honor to meet the two of them and be given this opportunity. Their words inspired the thousands who watched the Facebook Live stream, but their personalities empowered the twins (us!) who interviewed them, the most.

We now know that our efforts to make a difference are truly going to have an impact, and that our hard work can make a difference. We had never thought that our first ever live interview would be with such incredible leaders.

Our message to all the girls involved with Girl Up who are reading this, is to always believe in yourselves and continue to work hard to support girls and women’s equality around the world.

Below is our vlog and the full interview:



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