Birthdays are often celebrated occasions. Usually, it is the individual who is given presents. One activist has turned this tradition on its head, with an astonishing act of philanthropy. After being attacked by the Taliban in 2013, Malala Yousafzai dedicated her life to making a positive difference in the world. The world’s youngest ever Nobel Prize laureate, Malala, at only 18, has already made a name for herself as an activist, an advocate for women’s rights and education, and an opponent of poverty. The Syrian Civil War is well into its fourth year, and the refugee crisis caused has been one of the worst in human history. There are over four million registered Syrian refugees, and the true number is likely to be much higher. Well over half are under the age of 18, and 50.5% are female. Refugees often lack access to adequate education. As an educational campaigner, this was clearly a cause close to Malala.
Malala Yousafzai founded the Malala Fund, which is a non-profit organisation driven to ’empower girls through quality secondary education’. It is through this foundation that she launched her latest inspiring project. Syria’s refugees are spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Lebanon, a country where a quarter of the population are refugees, is home to almost 1.2 million. In an informal refugee settlement in the country’s Beka’a Valley, the Malala Fund opened a school for Syrian girls.
Marking her 18th birthday, Malala attended the school’s opening ceremony. In an inspiring speech, Malala called on the world to pay more attention to the plight of Syria’s refugees.
“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”
Malala made clear her reasons for choosing Lebanon as the place to launch her school for Syrian refugees. “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”.
Of the over half a million school-age Syrians in Libya, only a fifth currently have access to formal education. Though it may seem only a small step, Malala’s school may start a chain reaction, alerting philanthropists the world over to the plight of Syria’s forgotten children.
As she stood in the classroom, children and adults listened intently to her every word. The new classroom, whose walls were adorned with butterflies, seemed to emulate Malala’s own metamorphosis, her ability to transform pain and tragedy into a lifetime of public service and charity. The children sang for Malala, and she was presented with a birthday cake. Though it is clear that the lasting legacy of her work, and the impact it has on so many children, will be the greatest gift of all.