"Pens and books are the weapons that defeat terrorism," Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old survivor of a targeted Taliban attack, told a crowd of 300 at the opening of the $300-million Library of Birmingham, in England, today.
"Books are very precious … There is no better way to explain the importance of books than to say that even God chose the medium of a book to send His message to His people," she added.
Yousafzai was targeted by a hit man last year in Pakistan for campaigning for women's rights. She survived being shot at point-blank range on a school bus near her home, and was treated for her injuries at Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital. She and her family now live in Birmingham.
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At the opening ceremony where officials presented her with a library card to the 10-storey-high, 400,000-book library, she spoke about her love of reading and the culture shock of discovering how many books young people in England had access to.
"When I was discharged from the hospital, I was introduced to this new society, which is different from our society in Pakistan, in many ways," she told the crowd. "Here people tell me that they have read hundreds of books. It does not matter how old they are, they take a keen interest in reading, even children of six and seven years have read more books than me."
"Now I will challenge myself to read thousands of books. And I will empower myself with knowledge," she added. "A world without books is like a body without a soul. A city without books and a city without libraries is like a graveyard."
The teenager placed the last book on the shelves of the new state-of-the-art library: her own personal copy of Paolo Coelho's The Alchemist.
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Since surviving the assassination attempt, Yousafzai has been awarded the Tipperary International Peace Award and the International Children's Peace Prize. She has been nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize.
Her work is far from over, she claimed in her inspirational speech:
"We must not forget that 57 million children are out of school. We must speak up for peace and development in Nigeria, Syria and Somalia. We must speak up for the children of Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, who are suffering from terrorism, poverty, child labour and child trafficking," she said.
"Let us help them through our voice, action and charity. Let us help them to read books and go to school. And let us not forget that even one book, one pen, one child and one teacher can change the world."
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