Nobel winner Malala opens school for Syrian refugees

Sun Jul 12, 2015 9:52am EDT
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By Sylvia Westall

BEKAA VALLEY, Lebanon (Reuters) - 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.   Continued...

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai (C) sits with girls inside a classroom at a school for Syrian refugee girls, built by the NGO Kayany Foundation, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley July 12, 2015. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi