Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani education activist and youngest-ever Nobel Peace laureate, celebrated her 18th birthday today by inaugurating a secondary school for Syrian refugee girls in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, near Syria’s border.
Yousafzai survived being shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in 2012, as she returned home from school on a bus with her classmates in northern Pakistan. Since the attack, she and her family have lived in England.
The new school will serve more than 200 Syrian girls between ages 14 and 18, according to the Malala Fund, Yousafzai’s nonprofit organization, which is helping support the school.
“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.”
Lebanon hosts more than 1 million of Syria’s 4 million refugees.
Today’s school opening in Lebanon follows Yousafzai’s appearance at an education summit in Oslo last week, where she noted that her birthday was approaching: “My life of being a child will come to an end,” she said in a speech.
She’s vowed to continue to fight for the rights of children. “I think there’s no limit of age … to speak of children’s rights,” she said. “My father has been doing it as a teacher and I will continue to do it as a woman. As an adult, you can be the voice of children.”