Malala Yousafzai, the youngest recipient of Nobel Peace Prize (2014), spent her 19th birthday in Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya, which the country is planning to close because of security reasons. Malala addressed the challenges that girls face in getting a quality education.
Last year, she celebrated her birthday in Lebanon where she opened a girl’s school for Syrian refugees.
The Pakistani activist pointed out that all the Somali schoolgirls currently residing in the camp would lose out on education and most certainly would become child brides if Kenya forces them to leave the country and go back to Somalia. While giving a speech in one of the seven secondary schools in Dadaab, Malala commented:
“The problem is that there are not enough schools in Somalia. If these girls do not go to school, then they get married at a very early age, and the same would have been my future if I couldn’t go to school.”
Back in 2013, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon commemorated Malala’s 16th birthday by pronouncing July 12 “Malala Day.” After that, Malala gave a speech at the UN to call for equal access to education worldwide. The activist also emphasized that Malala Day was not “her day,” but the day of all the young girls across the globe who have raised a voice for their right to education. As Stephany Bai of NBC News noted, since then Malala spent her birthdays traveling to areas where girls face serious challenges to go to school.
This year Malala and her father went to the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, currently a temporary home for 342,000 people who are mostly of Somali origin. The government in Nairobi is planning to send some 150,000 refugees back to Somalia by the end of 2016. Initially, the plan was to close the entire camp by November, but many human rights group opposed the decision by saying that Somalia was not yet a safe place to go back. The official data has shown that over 14,000 refugees returned voluntarily to Somalia from Dabaab each week since December 2014.
In the refugee camp in Dadaab, Malala met the 19-year-old Somali girl Rahma Hussein Noor. She ran away from home at the age of 13 because her father did not allow her to go to school and wanted to marry her to an older man. Rahma came to the camp by herself and entered a classroom for the first time in her life, writes Malala Yousafzai for News Deeply.
Only four out of ten Somali girls go to school in Dadaab compare to six out of ten boys because the education of girls is not a priority, schools are equipped properly, and refugee families often do not have money for education.
Raouf Mazou, the head of the UN refugee agency UNHCR in Kenya, commented:
“You probably have more girls attending school in exile when they are in the camp than they would have if they had stayed in Somalia. We will make sure that they continue to have access to education.”
Mazou also added that the UN is giving vouchers to all the families going back to Somalia from Dabaab to help them cover private schools fees, which can be about $20 a month.
According to Malala, cited by Eyewitness News, sending each chld affected by conflict back to school would cost $8.5 billion a year, an affordable amount for developed countries.
As Deepak Gupta of India.com writes, Yousafzai received international prominence in 2012 when she barely survived a near-death shot in the head by a Taliban gunman for her strong criticism of the Taliban policies and advocacy of girls’ rights of education. While still in Pakistan, she started blogging for the BBC anonymously. Even after her identity was revealed, the teenager did not stop speaking out despite the numerous death threats by the Taliban.
Malala now lives in the United Kingdom where she graduated from secondary school. She is also in charge of a foundation named after her.