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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 told Reuters in a schoolroom decorated with
drawings of butterflies.
The Malala Fund , a non-profit organization that supports local
education projects, paid for the school in the Bekaa Valley, close to
the Syrian border. It can welcome up to 200 girls aged 14 to 18.
“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 said in a speech.
Lebanon is home to 1.2 million of the 4 million refugees that have
fled Syria’s war to neighboring countries. There are about 500,000
Syrian school-age children in
Lebanon, but only a fifth are in formal education.
Lebanon, which allows informal settlements on land rented by refugees,
says it can no longer cope with the influx from Syria’s four-year
conflict. One in four living in Lebanon is a refugee.
The U.N. says the number of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries
is expected to reach 4.27 million by the end of the year.
“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
“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.”