Malala Yousafzai, the youngest ever Nobel Prize Winner, celebrated her 18th birthday by opening an all-girls school on July 11th. The Malala Yousafzai All-Girls School is located in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border in an attempt to increase the number of Syrian refugee children receiving formal education. Lebanon has become home for more than 1.3 million displaced Syrians that have fled their home country since fighting began in 2011.
Yousafzai has been an internationally recognized advocate for women’s empowerment and education since she was shot by a Taliban gunman in 2012 for promoting such ideas. Her plight gained worldwide attention as she was transferred to a UK hospital for medical care. The Malala Fund has risen to become a strong supporter of global education initiatives, originally advocating for education in her native Pakistan, but becoming increasingly far-reaching.
Malala attends a ribbon cutting ceremony for her new school. (Photo: AFP)
Malala called for world leaders to invest in education before arms, “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.” She also berated the international community’s handling of the conflict in Syria saying, “…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.”
The Syrian Civil War is estimated to be on course to displace 4.27 million people in neighboring countries by the end of this year, according to the United Nations. Another 7.6 million Syrians could be considered internally displaced, with children accounting for about half of the figure. A Save the Children report calculates that childhood enrollment in schools is down approximately 50%, leading to a lost generation of young adults. More broadly, flows of refugees have strained regional stability and the finances of states receiving them over the past five years.