ebanon — Malala Yousafzai, the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, celebrated her 18th birthday in Lebanon on Sunday by opening a school for Syrian refugee girls and called on world leaders to invest in “books not bullets.”
Malala became a symbol of defiance after she was shot on a school bus in Pakistan 2012 by the Taliban for advocating girls’ rights to education. She continued campaigning and won the Nobel in 2014.
“I decided to be in Lebanon because I believe that the voices of the Syrian refugees need to be heard and they have been ignored for so long,” Malala said in a schoolroom decorated with drawings of butterflies.
Malala Yousafzai marked her 18th birthday in Leban on Sunday, attending the opening an all-girls school near the Syrian border.
The education advocate and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate said she was “honored” to spend her birthday with the “brave and inspiring girls of Syria,” as she presided over the opening of the Malala Yousafzai All-Girls School in the Bekaa Valley.
The facility will provide quality secondary education to more than 200 Syrian girls living in informal camps in the Bekaa Valley region, according to a statement released after the event.
“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,” says a statement on the fund’s blog. “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 fund’s blog quotes Yousafzai:
“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,” Malala said. “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.”
In Lebanon as well as in Jordan, an increasing number of refugees are being turned back at the border,” Malala said. “This is inhuman and this is shameful.”
Her father Ziauddin said he was proud she was carrying on her activism into adulthood.
“This is the mission we have taken for the last 8-9 years. A small moment for the education of girls in Swat Valley: it is spreading now all over the world,” he said.
Malala was feted with songs and a birthday cake. Moved to tears by the girls, she was modest when asked for advice.
“They are amazing, I don’t think they need any message, I don’t think they need any other advice because they know that education is very important for them.”
The Malala Fund, which is financing the project, also announced a new grant of $250,000 in support to UNICEF and UNHCR, to meet the funding shortfall for girls’ school programming in Jordan’s Azraq refugee camp.
In Lebanon, the Malala Fund is providing funding to local partner NGO the KAYANY Foundation to provide baccalaureate and life skills training to 200 Syrian refugee girls ages 14 to 18.