Malala’s letter to Nigeria’s abducted schoolgirls: ‘solidarity, love, and hope’

— On the eve of the one-year mark since nearly 300 schoolgirls were abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria, Malala Yousafzai released an “open letter” to the girls Monday.

Malala Yousafzai has written a heartfelt open letter to mark the one year anniversary of the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria on April 14, 2014. Her letter of support and solidarity with the missing also calls on Nigerian leaders and the international community to provide more help express her support and solidarity with the missing.

(Photo: Malala Fund)

Malala Yousafzai has written a heartfelt open letter to mark the one year anniversary of the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria on April 14, 2014. Her letter of support and solidarity with the missing also calls on Nigerian leaders and the international community to provide more help express her support and solidarity with the missing.

“Like you, I was a target of militants who did not want girls to go to school,” she writes in the letter. The 17-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner survived an attack by the Taliban, which had singled her out for blogging from Pakistan about the importance of staying in school.

In the letter, she calls on the Nigerian government and the international community to do more to rescue the girls. Nigeria recently held an election.

On April 14, 2014, Islamists with Boko Haram kidnapped the girls, prompting an international campaign for their safe return, which used the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. On Monday, UNICEF announced a new campaign for the 800,000 children who have been displaced in northeast Nigeria, using the hashtag #BringBackOurChildhood.

Malala is admired globally as a figure standing for peace. On Sunday, a NASA astrophysicist named an asteroid after her.

She has spoken with CNN about the Nigerian abductions previously.

Here is the full letter:

To my brave sisters, the kidnapped schoolgirls of Chibok,

On this first anniversary of your captivity, I write to you with a message of solidarity, love and hope.

My name is Malala. I am a Pakistani girl your age. I am one of the millions of people around the world who keep you and your families foremost in our thoughts and prayers. We cannot imagine the full extent of the horrors you have endured. But please know this: We will never forget you. We will always stand with you. Today and every day, we call on the Nigerian authorities and the international community to do more to bring you home. We will not rest until you have been reunited with your families.

Like you, I was a target of militants who did not want girls to go to school. Gunmen shot me and two of my friends on a school bus. All three of us survived and are back in school. Now we speak out on behalf of all girls about the right to get a proper education. Our campaign will continue until you and all girls and boys around the world are able to access a free, safe and quality secondary education.

Last July, I spent my 17th birthday in Nigeria with some of your parents and five of your classmates who escaped the kidnapping. Your parents are grief-stricken. They love you, and they miss you. My father and I wept and prayed with your parents — and they touched our hearts. The escapee schoolgirls my father and I met impressed us with their resolve to overcome their challenges and to complete their high school education. My father and I promised your parents and the girls who had escaped that we would do all we could to help them. I met Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and urged him to work harder for your freedom. I also asked President Jonathan to meet your parents and the girls who escaped the kidnapping, which he did a few days later. Still, in my opinion, Nigerian leaders and the international community have not done enough to help you. They must do much more to help secure your release. I am among many people pressuring them to make sure you are freed.

There are reasons for hope and optimism. Nigerian forces are re-gaining territory and protecting more schools. Nigeria’s newly-elected president, Muhammadu Buhari, has vowed to make securing your freedom a top priority and promised his government will not tolerate violence against women and girls.

“You will have the opportunity to receive the education you want and deserve. The Malala Fund and other organizations offered all your classmates who escaped the kidnapping full scholarships to complete their secondary education. Most of the escapee girls accepted this scholarship and are now continuing their studies at a safe boarding school and with the support they need. We hope to someday extend that same scholarship to all 219 of you, when you return home.

Remember that one day your tragic ordeal will end, you will be reunited with your families and friends, and you will have the chance to finish the education you courageously sought. I look forward to the day I can hug each one of you, pray with you, and celebrate your freedom with your families. Until then, stay strong, and never lose hope. You are my heroes.

Your sister,


Teen’s death shows horror of flu epidemic

— Shannon Zwanziger seemed perfectly healthy. She was an active 17-year-old who rarely got sick and hadn’t been to a doctor in more than three years.

Then one day, she came home with the flu. She died a week later.

Shannon is part of grim new statistics released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that the flu has reached an epidemic level in the United States this year.

It’s blamed for more deaths than it was at this time last year — including 15 children. That’s as of December 20. Already, more flu-related deaths are suspected, including a 4-year-old boy in Port Isabel, Texas, CNN affiliate KGNS reports.

It’s still early in the flu season, which often begins in early fall and persists through May, so it remains to be seen exactly how pervasive the flu will be.

Passed out in her mother’s arms, never came to

Shortly before she died on December 9, Shannon had worked her way — slowly — down the stairs at home by sitting and sliding down each step. She eventually made her way to the bathroom to take a bath.

“I helped her get in the bathtub, but when I saw her eyes, I said, ‘I think this is a mistake — we’ve got to get you out of here,’ ” her grief-stricken mother, Gwen, in Owatonna, Minnesota, told CNN on Wednesday. “She couldn’t help me get her out. So I lifted her up, and she passed away in my arms.”

Technically, Shannon was still alive, but she never regained consciousness.

Zwanziger began administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and screamed for her husband, Terry, who called 911. Emergency medical workers rushed Shannon to a hospital, which found a slight heartbeat and flew her to a larger hospital. After a few hours, her heart stopped altogether.

“She was such an incredible kid,” Gwen Zwanziger said by phone. “She had her whole life planned out. She was living life to the fullest. If you’re going to have the perfect kid, she was it.”

Zwanziger had taken her daughter to a clinic at the hospital when she first became ill. She was told that her sickness was the flu and would run its course at home. The Zwanzigers cared for her, gave her liquids and did everything they were told.

But Zwanziger says the family later learned that at some point, Shannon’s liver gave out. And an autopsy confirmed that she had a type A flu.

The CDC said that because of privacy rules, it can say only that there were two “confirmed reports of flu-pediatric deaths in Minnesota this season.”

It will be several more weeks before autopsy results show whether Shannon had an underlying health issue that the family was unaware of, Zwanziger says.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends an annual physical exam throughout childhood after the age of 4. But a study found that Minnesota teens ages 13 to 17 had no preventive care visits, and another 40% had only one such visit during those years.

Bad year for the vaccine

The CDC said it does not yet have information on how many of those killed by the flu this year were vaccinated.

It’s an unusually bad year for the vaccine. Just over half the strains tested were not covered by it. The biggest reason is a mutated strain that was not being spread at the time the vaccine was designed.

Still, getting vaccinated is “the best way to reduce the chances that you will get seasonal flu and spread it to others” and “may make your illness milder if you do get sick,” according to the CDC.

“It’s still about 61% effective,” Dr. Seema Yasmin, a CNN medical analyst, said. “Most flu vaccines protect against three or four different strains of flu actually, so even if it’s not a great match against one particular strain, it will still protect you against the other strains that are going around right now.”

Alarming numbers, but outbreak might not be worse

While alarming, the latest statistics don’t indicate that the outbreak this year will be, overall, worse than in previous years, the CDC told CNN on Wednesday. It’s too early to know.

Flu activity is high in nearly half the country — 22 states and Puerto Rico, according to a map released by the CDC.

The “epidemic threshold” is crossed to some extent every year, a CDC chart shows.

In the week ending December 20, nearly 7% of deaths were blamed on pneumonia and flu. That’s higher than it was at the same time last year, but later on in the season, the percentage of deaths blamed on the flu generally goes higher.

The number of children killed by the flu spiked tremendously in 2013. Thirty-seven deaths were blamed on the flu in the 2011 to 2012 season; the next season, 2012-2013, there were 171 deaths, the CDC says. In the 2013 to 2014 season, the figure was 109.

The 2009 season, which stretched from April 2009 to October 2010 and included the H1N1 pandemic, saw 348 deaths.

Totals are known for children but not adults because child deaths must be reported to the CDC; there’s no similar requirement for adult deaths.

Older people are generally those worst-affected. Flu-related hospitalizations among people 65 and older has reached 38.3 per 100,000 people, the highest rate of any age group, the CDC says.

Flu activity generally peaks in the United States between December and February.

Gwen Zwanziger says she did not catch the flu from her daughter, even after administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Mixed in with all the pain and grief the family is suffering is the frustration of not knowing how the death happened.

“I just cannot figure out why she died from this,” the grieving mother says.

‘Be really proactive’

CNN had contacted an online fundraising campaign for the Zwanziger family — her parents and her sister, who is married and has a baby — to learn more about the girl’s death. Organizers got back in touch, saying Gwen Zwanziger wanted to talk and deliver a message: “We need to take it more seriously. And you need to be really proactive,” she says.

She had gotten her daughter excellent medical care, but it wasn’t enough. She wants more people suffering from symptoms to have blood tests.

Shannon had not had the vaccine. Her father was vaccinated, but her mother was not because she had a bad reaction to a swine flu vaccine in the 1970s, she said.

(“If a person has had a serious allergic reaction to flu vaccines in the past, this might be a contraindication to getting one, but they should talk with their doctor to understand if that reaction is relevant to the decision to get a vaccine now,” says Dr. Joseph Bresee, chief of the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch of the CDC’s Influenza Division.)

The Zwanzigers gave their daughter a choice, and she chose to forgo the vaccine.

It’s unknown whether the vaccine would have saved her.

CNN’s Eve Bower and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.

Statue of Liberty reopens as weather, sequester dampen some celebrations

— Lady Liberty reopened her doors to the huddled masses Thursday, a big bright spot for an Independence Day dampened by soaking rains and canceled fireworks celebrations elsewhere in the country.

The Statue of Liberty has been closed since Liberty Island, where it stands, was hard hit by Superstorm Sandy in October. It had been open only a few days after a year of renovations.

Thursday, crowds lined up to board ferries for one of the world’s most iconic sites. After a ribbon cutting, the first visitors arrived just before 9 a.m.

The timing of the reopening “couldn’t be better” for the New York City area, CNN Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri said. After seeing rainfall for eight of the past 10 days, the region should see dry, though hot, weather for July Fourth festivities.

Expect gorgeous weather in the Midwest, Javaheri said. But triple-digit heat still prevails in the Southwest. And those in the Southeast, Ohio River Valley, or much of the Eastern Seaboard can expect it to rain on their parades.

Mother Nature isn’t the only reason some Americans are missing out on fireworks this year.

The across-the-board federal budget cut known as the sequester has left numerous military bases without the funds.

Fort Hood in Texas “managed to salvage its fireworks from dipping into profits earned from its recycling center,” Time reports.

(Fun fact, or perhaps not so much fun: The overwhelming majority of fireworks are imported from China. Same with U.S. flags.)

More Americans are celebrating the holiday at home this year than last year, according to estimates by the motorist group AAA. About 41 million Americans are expected to travel at least 50 miles from home by Monday, down about 300,000 from those who made similar trips last year.

“Economic growth is not robust enough to offset the impact of the sequester and the effect of the end of the payroll tax cut on American families,” said AAA CEO Robert Darbelnet.

While some will sing the national anthem — like Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, who will belt out the “Star Spangled Banner” at Nationals Park in the District of Columbia — others are focused more on what’s going into their mouths, from grilled greatness and apple pie to preposterous amounts of hot dogs at the annual Coney Island hot dog eating contest.

President Obama, meanwhile, sought to bring the meaning of the holiday home.

In his weekly address, he thanked service members and called on Americans to keep striving for the ideals of “a small band of patriots” who declared American independence. “Two hundred thirty-seven years later, the United States — this improbable nation — is the greatest in the world,” Obama said. “A land of liberty and opportunity.”


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