LAHORE, Pakistan - Four years ago, Palwasha Yousafzai longed to go to school.
It was early 2009 and the Taliban was in control of the villages of the Swat Valley. The Islamist group had banned all types of entertainment, including television, radio and music and forbidden local women from going shopping and girls from attending school.
"Every day I would stand near the window pane and wait for an opportunity to go out of the house," recalled Palwasha, 14, now a seventh-grader at Al Razi School and College Kanju in Swat.
"I lost interest in revising my schoolwork, especially knowing that hundreds of girls' schools were already burned down and that I had little hope of going back to school," she said.
What gave her hope, she said, was a blog written anonymously by a teenage Pakistani about the trials of being a girl in a strict Muslim country. That girl, Malala Yousafzai, was attacked a year ago by the Taliban for her words, and is a candidate this year for the Nobel Peace Prize. The winner of the prize will be announced Friday.
"In that turmoil, it was (Malala's) diaries on BBC that became the voice for many girls like me," Palwasha said.
Many schoolgirls like Palwasha in Malala's home region are crossing their fingers, saying she should win, and hoping she'll do so against possible contenders such as WikiLeaks leaker Pfc. Bradley Manning and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
That's because Palwasha, who hails from a farming family, says Malala is someone who showed girls like her that they could go to school, have a future even though things seemed so bleak back when Taliban ruled the lush Swat Valley after pushing its way into power in 2007. An offensive by the Pakistan military two years later largely drove the Taliban from the area.
"In my family, women from the previous generations would help their men in the fields and not much importance would be given to their education," she said. "But now the tables have turned."
Even so, there is much left to be done in the region and many local girls are hoping that if 16-year-old Malala wins the Nobel, it will raise awareness about how important it is for females to get educated: In Pakistan, only 40% of females can read.
Purkha Gul, 16, a 10th-grader at the Swat Girls Model School likens uneducated females to ticking bombs for the country. She says educating girls is key to curbing terrorism, which she calls "the biggest challenge for our country."
"We remember how the illiterate women in our neighborhood gave their jewelry to the Taliban and sacrificed their sons, brothers and husband to fight against Pakistan's army because all they could understand was that the fight was for Islam," she said.
Purkha also bitterly recounts how a friend died because she was female and local mores prevented her getting medical treatment in time.
"She died just because the doctor was a male and the family wasn't willing to get her examined," she said. "This is what lack of education can do - it can cost lives."
While Malala has been hailed internationally, some locals aren't as happy about all the attention surrounding the young activist. The Taliban this week reissued a threat against her life, which it tried to take when a Taliban terrorist shot Malala in the head in Mingora, Swat, one year ago Wednesday.
The assassination attempt as she was walking from school made headlines worldwide. Malala's father, who ran a school for girls, was allowed to bring her to England for brain surgery and to repair her face. She has remained in that country ever since.