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Girls defy the Taliban in Pakistan
03:43 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

CNN's Saima Mohsin returns to Swat valley where Malala was shot

Female students at school embrace education despite threats and fears

Malala's town is recovering, with students returning to school

Swat, Pakistan CNN  — 

Driving in Pakistan’s Swat valley, a region located close to the border with Afghanistan, I can sense the difference immediately. The faces of young children, women and families who walk around seem relaxed. The streets buzz with an air of calm.

Swat is full of life once again. It’s a marked difference from the previous times I’ve been here. The last time was shortly after Malala Yousafzai was shot. Back then, a sense of sorrow and shock hung in the air. Everything felt still and drained. The town was in mourning.

In these past nine months, we have written and read so much about Malala.

It boils down to this – a 15-year-old schoolgirl was shot at point blank range for encouraging girls to go to school.

In pictures: Malala’s road to recovery

The residents have not forgotten the horrific events of October 2012 – especially the young people who had to return to school. In most places going to school does not mean risking your life, but in Swat – that’s exactly what young girls and boys have been doing. They defy threats from the Taliban.

Global view

The Pakistani Taliban ran a ruthless campaign of bombing girls’ schools and carrying out public executions in 2007-2008. Then, the shooting of Malala last year brought the world’s attention to the issue.

But how are other young women and Swat dealing with the impact of events? I traveled to the Swat valley to find out.

In pictures: The world’s other Malalas

It wasn’t easy finding somewhere to film. I contacted several schools and colleges. CNN asked to film at Malala’s school but the principal declined. She wants to encourage young girls to continue going to school, she does not want them to become a target.

Malala’s shooting put the spotlight on Swat and the young women there. Not everyone enjoys that focus. They fear reprisal attacks. They fear the Taliban will attack them simply for picking up a school book.

I visited a girls’ college in Swat soon after Malala’s shooting last October. The young women I spoke to were adamant they would continue with their education. Their college was due to be renamed the Malala Yousafzai College in her honor. But days later authorities changed their minds – the girls and their parents said they would be too scared to attend if it was associated with Malala.

Girls defiant

We were given permission to film at a women’s college for science and technology. Most of the girls were local, but some had come all the way from Peshawar to study in Swat. It’s a sign of how things are changing here.

Years of Taliban brutality both in Swat and the surrounding areas have clearly left a lasting impact on the people there. The young girls I spoke to have not forgotten the images of death and destruction.

They tell me about what they saw, how it filled them with fear and dread. They hug me and thank me for coming to see them.

Uzma Sajad, 17, speaks confidently at first, but when asked about the Taliban, the psychological impact is visible.

She is breathless and nervous, but determined to speak out.

“It was a real crisis all over – especially girls were not allowed to get educated, now it’s completely freedom,” she says. “Everything has changed. We are free to go to our schools or colleges, wherever we want, it’s freedom all over.

“It makes me really proud and really happy.”

Dreams of educated future

I ask another girl, named Sara, if her fear of the Taliban ever made her think twice about coming to school or college. She looks me in the eye and says with conviction, “We should not stop education because of someone else. Or because