Big Names and Big Donors Help Malala Launch School for Syrian Refugee Girls

By now, most everyone has at least heard of Malala Yousafzai. The now 18-year-old Pakistani education activist made global headlines after surviving a bullet to the head by a Taliban gunman when she was just 15 years old. The teenager recovered and became an even louder voice in educational advocacy than she was prior to the assassination attempt. Malala has since received global recognition, was named the youngest-ever Nobel Peace laureate, and established the Malala Fund.

The fund launched with an initial $10 million donation from the Pakistani government. Ever since then, the donations have been rolling in, including  $200,000 personal donation from actress Angelina Jolie and a combined $150,000 donation from Jolie’s Education Partnership for Children of Conflict and Tina Brown’s Women of the World Foundation. 

The Malala Fund is a girl’s secondary education nonprofit that focuses on providing a minimum of 12 years of schooling to girls in some of the most vulnerable and conflict-ridden areas of the world. Earlier this summer, Malala Yousafzai marked her 18th birthday by officially opening a school for Syrian refuge girls in Lebanon. That country is currently home to over 1 million Syrian refugees. With no end to the conflict in sight, that number will certainly grow in the coming months and years.

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Upon the school's opening day, Malala said, “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.” There are currently around 500,000 Syrian school-aged children living in Lebanon, but only around 20 percent of them are obtaining a formal education. And since the beginning of the most recent war, an estimated 3 million Syrian children have been forced out of school. The situation is often worse for girls.

Related: More Bad News for Syrian Refugees with Many Funders Still MIA

Nora Joumblatt, founder of the Kayany Foundation, a Lebanon-based NGO committed to providing Syrian refugee children with humanitarian aid and access to education, said that access to education for Syrian refugee girls has “regressed immensely” in recent years. The consequence of this backslide isn’t just in the realm of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Adolescent girls—especially those ages 14 to 18—who aren’t in school are at higher risk of being forced into early marriage. These young girls are also at a higher risk of being exploited sexually and used for unskilled labor. The Kayany Foundation is also a big supporter of the Malala Fund.

Access to education is one of the top challenges faced by all Syrian refugee children, but girls in particular. Experts warn that without further attention to education, the result could be a “lost generation of uneducated children in Syria.” According to Save the Children, should this occur, Syria’s post-war economy could suffer economic losses of up to £1.5 billion a year.