Malala Yousafzai, the young education activist famed for taking a bullet for her belief in girls’ rights to education, turned 18 this month — and to commemorate the occasion, she opened a school for Syrian girls in Lebanon.
Only 20% of Syrian children living in Lebanon as refugees from its ongoing war are receiving formal education. According to Yousafzai, both Lebanese and world leaders are failin Syrian children.
Sasha Zients of Quartz quoted her birthday speech:
Today on my first day as an adult, on behalf of the world’s children, I demand of leaders we must invest in books instead of bullets.
Two weeks ago she celebrated the opening of the Malala Yousafzai All-Girls School in the Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border where more than 1.3 million Syrian refugees live. 200 girls between the ages of 14 and 18 will attend.
A statement on the Malala Fund’s blog said:
The new curriculum will enable students to receive their baccalaureate or vocational degrees through the Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education or the Syrian equivalent. Students unable to commit to the four-year baccalaureate training will participate in skills courses intended to help them find work and generate their own incomes.
The school is part of an initiative by the Kayani Foundation, a Lebanese NGO that serves to support displaced Syrian children, writes Philip Issa of the Daily Star. It was founded in 2013 by Noura Jumblatt to provide food, water, sanitation, and other essentials to the refugees in the Bekaaa.
Yousafzai’s comments were a mix of hopeful and critical:
I am honored to mark my 18th birthday with the brave and inspiring girls of Syria. I am here on behalf of the 28 million children who are kept from the classroom because of armed conflict. Their courage and dedication to continue their schooling in difficult conditions inspires people around the world and it is our duty to stand by them. On this day, I have a message for the leaders of this country, this region, and the world– you are failing the Syrian people, especially Syria’s children. This is a heartbreaking tragedy– the world’s worst refugee crisis in decades.
Yousafzai has been campaigning for education for girls throughout most of her young life. Her blogging campaigns in the Swat Valley in Pakistan, where she grew up, led to a 2012 Taliban attack in which she was shot in the head. She became the youngest Nobel Prize winner in 2014, notes an article from NPR.
Her nonprofit, the Malala Fund, has asked global leaders to guarantee 12 years of education to children of all genders and to invest an additional $39 billion total in education. The organization also recently announced a $250,000 grant for girls’ education in the Azraq refugee camp of Jordan, where over 5,000 Syrian girls are living.