Malala Yousafzai, who became the youngest ever Nobel Prize winner in 2014, has decided that for her 18th birthday, she wants world leaders to recognize that they are failing Syrian children. Only one-fifth of Syrian children in Lebanon are receiving formal education, Reuters reports.
She opened the Malala Yousafzai All-Girls School on July 11 in Lebanon near the Syrian border, where the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that more than 1.3 million Syrian refugees are currently living. That’s over a quarter of the 4 million Syrians who have fled the country since 2011.
“I decided to be in Lebanon because I believe that the voices of Syrian refugees need to be heard and they have been ignored for so long,” Yousafzai told Reuters.
Yousafzai has long championed education for women and girls in her native Pakistan, where she was shot by a Taliban gunman in 2012. The school in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley was funded by the Malala Fund, a non-profit organization that supports education projects, and will be able to accommodate up to 200 girls between the ages of 14 and 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,” Yousafzai said in a speech. Ziauddin Yousafzai, Yousafzai’s father, said that he was proud that she is furthering the empowerment of women through education beyond the Swat Valley in Pakistan—where she began her activism.
The 18-year-old celebrated her birthday at the school with songs and birthday cake among a group that included Syrian girls. When they asked her for advice, she humbly said that they did not need any advice because they already knew the importance of education.