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Kenmore East High School students honor courage of Pakistani teen

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Some Kenmore East High School students completed a portrait of a 14-year-old Pakistan teen seriously wounded by the Taliban for standing up for freedom. 

Malala Yousufzai was shot on her school bus this past fall. The Taliban targeted her for being outspoken for rights to educate girls. 

WBFO's Eileen Buckley talked to Kenmore East students about their project inspired by Malala's commitment as a freedom fighter.

It's mid-morning inside Kenmore East High School in Tonawanda where students chatted freely as they changed classes.  But on a second floor hallway wall of there school there is a reminder, or perhaps a symbol, of their freedom as American teens. 

Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley
Theodora Laucau, freshman art student, points to the area she painted

"I can't believe that she actually had the courage to do that.  And I would really hope that I could, maybe one day, have the opportunity to stand up for what I believe in in such a way," said Theodora Laucau, a freshman art student.  She was one of the 75 students who helped paint the portrait. 

Laucau said it was there art teacher, Matthew SaGurney, who encouraged the students to select an inspirational person to portray.

Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley
Kenmore East High School art teacher Matthew SaGurney talks with students in his class

"We had to chose someone who was really influential, and Mr. SaGurney introduced to this girl -- Malala --  who is someone definitely someone who has made a huge impact on the world this year.  And we all agreed that she was someone who was really making a difference and we thought she should be recognized," said Laucau.

"It was  a really powerful project," said art teacher  Matthew SaGurney. 

Each school year he encourages his students to select a power person to create a 9-foot by 9-foot painted portrait. Last year they selected Martin Luther King, Jr.    

"It gives us an opportunity to teach kids about people standing up for what they believe in, and truthfully, we were struggling to find one for this year, and then it was an obvious choice once we thought of her begin the same age as students and her being in a situation completely different from their own," said SaGurney. 

"Well she is our age and it is just unbelievable that she stood up for people our age, but it is in a different country," said Emma Knab, freshman art student.  Knab painted one of the sections closes to Malala's face. 

Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley
Malala Yousufzai portrait in the hall of Kenmore East High School, Tonawanda, NY

This project has turned into a powerful teaching tool.

"We take for granted the things that we get here, but she didn't get things over there.  We are so protected over here -- like our schools and everything.  I feel very grateful," said Knab. 

WBFO News asked Knab she she learned from the art project.

"I learned to not take for granted what I have now.  Like there are people all around the world that have what I don't have," said Knab.

Another freshman art student -- who wanted to be identified only as Noah - painted a few of the squares of the portrait. 

"I thought it was really brave of her to go out and just fight for the cause and talk about everything she had to do.  I mean she definitely paid the price for it, but she's still fighting for it," noted Noah.     

Malala has undergone extensive recovery since the October shooting by the Taliban.  She was recently released from a hospital in England, but will return, at some point, for more surgery.

Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley
Malala Yousufzai quote

For the Kenmore East art students -- the portrait has sparked conversation at school about this young woman's courageous journey.

"A lot of kids liked the painting.  A lot of kids thought it was very cool  that we did all of this and painted the quotes," said Noah. 

"People don't know about other places.  A lot of people here just thing about their life.  They don't think about the people over in every country that struggle everyday like she did," said Knab.

"I really think that kids don't know. They don't know what's going on they just kind of live in this bubble of our culture, and they really don't get to see how other things are and by doing this, we are kind of like popping the bubble and bringing awareness of what's actually going on in the world," said Laucau.

"It's nice to know you can make a difference," said SaGurney.

SaGurney is very proud of his students.

"My kids, this year, are incredibly compassionate, and they are all years, but for some reason, this group has really driven the project.  They are really great kids. I feel privileged," said SaGurney. 

Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley
Flyer of Malala Yousufzai students posted next to their artwork that asks

Students plan to send the images of the portrait with individual letters and create a YouTube video to Malala to extend their well-wishes and relate how they were affected by her this young Pakistani's woman's powerful story. 

"She took a way bigger path then I think anyone here could have.  She's got way more guts then a lot of people," said Noah.