On one of the hottest days of 2019, a most amazing event took place at the Omaha Public Schools Foundation. Malala Yousafzai came to visit! Toba Cohen-Dunning, the Executive Director, was contacted by Malala Fund to ask if there might be an opportunity for Malala to meet and visit with students from the Omaha Public Schools. Malala is fighting to give back to girls what poverty, war and discrimination tried to take away. Malala Fund breaks down the barriers preventing more than 130 million girls around the world from going to school.

Malala had a planned visit to Omaha and wished to extend her visit to be able to share her message with students.  Toba and a group of OPS administrators put their heads together to make the extraordinary afternoon happen for 20 OPS high school students. The students knew Malala’s story as they had read her book but were thrilled to have the good fortune to meet her in person. The students represented all 7 high schools and the diversity that is the hallmark of our large urban school district. Several of the students were refugees themselves and shared their stories throughout the afternoon.

To bring the group together, Angela Fisher, OPS Art Education Supervisor, designed a bench painting project to showcase the images and words which have inspired students all over the world. Students began the project under a tent, cooled by a fan, prior to Malala’s arrival. They then gathered in the Foundation Conference Room, sitting around the table to greet their guest.

Upon arriving, Malala asked to be seated, not at the head of the table, but to sit among the students. She asked about each student and their ambitions and goals and answered their questions. The students were somewhat shy at first but found Malala to be warm and engaging and extremely easy to talk to. It was obvious she was there to learn from them as much as they were hoping to learn from her. The students asked questions about her life and ambitions and shared their own. Afterwards she willingly accepted the students invitations to pose for pictures. She went out of her way to meet each person in the room, students and adult guests alike.

The whole group moved outside to complete work on the bench and Malala jumped right in to help with the painting. More photos were captured and as many of the students had bought personal copies of her book, Malala graciously agreed to sign them. Toba told the students that each and every one would receive a copy of Malala’s latest book as a gift.

This occasion will long be remembered as the highlight of the Omaha Public Schools Foundation efforts to bring students together to make their dreams come true.

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