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 Always be a first-rate version of yourself instead of a second-rate version of somebody else. –Judy Garland

She was born in Nador(a small village in the countryside of Morrocco) in 1977.The village was so backward that it did not even have electricity. Her father was a construction worker. She was the second child among seven siblings. She learned the meaning of struggle and hard work at an early age, as the 4-year-old was forced to tend goats and gather water from a nearby well. She moved to the suburbs of Amiens in France in 1982 with her family and faced the real world full of opportunities as well as struggles. She fell prey to a cultural shock. Suddenly, she was surrounded by a host of obstacles, the major one being language, as she didn’t know French. Hold your breath, because this girl has grown up to become a very charming Muslim woman and the youngest person ever to become the French Minister of Education. The journey wasn’t easy, but she had no plans to quit either. She decimated every obstacle that came in her way.

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Talking about her struggle, she said, “The fact of leaving one’s country, one’s family, one’s root can be painful, my father had already found his place, but for us, for my mother, it was very difficult to get our bearing.”

Najat Belkacem inherited hard work and resourcefulness from her father who laid strict rules for his daughters – no boys and no nightclubs till the age of 18. As a result, the girls completely surrendered themselves to studies. The Moroccan girl who had no proficiency in French learned the language by the end of her first year in college.  Najat’s sister, Fatiha, is a lawyer in Paris. Najat worked two jobs to take the financial load off her parents while pursuing her Master’s in Public Administration. She developed an interest in politics from a very tender age.

After studying hard for years, Najat graduated from the Paris Institute of Political Studies in 2002. Soon after, she joined the Socialist Party and began her fight for citizens’ rights, against discrimination, and housing for all. She married to civil servant Boris Vallaud in 2005 after courting in the university. She also gave birth to a set of twins – a boy and a girl. She also became an adviser to the Socialist Party in the same year.

Soon, her handwork paid off and she was chosen as a council woman in Rhone Alpines and stayed in office till 2008. She was later designated as the Council General of the Rhone department. By then, she had strongly set her foothold in politics.

However, a major turn in her life came when she was elected as Minister of Women’s Rights and spokeswoman for the government under President Hollande, in 2012. As a woman affairs minister, she supported the legislation of gay marriage and gender ideology even as she was criticised by many. After becoming the Education Minister, Belkacem, who calls herself a non-practicing Muslim, made headlines because of her statement that she was opposed to both –from someone being forced to wear burkinis as well as the bans on the swimwear, calling it “a threat to individuals’ freedoms.” Belkacem, however, continues to be attacked in the country for being an immigrant. Sometimes she has also been accused of “flaunting her charms.”

In 2014, she served as the Minister of Women’s Right, Minister of City Affairs, Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports. In a major cabinet shuffle, she was promoted to serve as the Minister of Education.

From a shepherd girl to the French Education Minister, Belkacem is a living example that keeping faith in our children and investing in them in a right way, like in proper education can be rewarding. She is an inspiration to millions who have had poor childhoods but wish to succeed immensely in their careers and lives.While advising the youth who want to participate in the country’s politics, Najat said, “I have always advised the youths to get involved in politics. The best way to be happy with your future is by playing a part in it. If you’re just a spectator of collective fate, you’re bound to feel frustrated.”

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