It isn’t every day you turn 18, and yesterday Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai spent her eighteenth birthday opening the very first Malala Yousafzai All-Girls School in Lebanon. The school will specifically help Syrian refugees in the area, and MTV News has some exclusive images of the big day.
“This year she wanted to do something a little different for [her birthday],” Malaka Gharib, digital manager for the Malala Fund, told MTV News. “We are going to be mobilizing people over the next few months over the Malala film, 'He Named Me Malala.' By pledging to watch the film or joining Malala Fund, we’ll be sending regular updates of when we do have big campaign movements.”
The news of Malala’s trip was kept top secret beforehand, in part for her own safety. But the importance of education and the situation for Syrian refugees let her know she must go.
“I am here on behalf of the 28 million children who are kept from the classroom because of armed conflict,” 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.”
Malala has also been using her birthday celebration to draw attention to her #BooksNotBullets action, where she’s encouraged people to share the hashtag and a picture of themselves with their favorite book. After crunching numbers, the Malala Fund said that closing out the $39 billion education funding gap would enable kids around the world to receive twelve years of school. That number sounds huge, but the Malala Fund figured something else out.
“It’s actually not that much money, because $39 billion dollars equals just eight days of global military funding,” Gharib told MTV News. Malala wonders why so much money is being spent on war or preparing for war and more isn’t being put toward education.
“On behalf of the world’s children, I demand of our leaders to invest in books instead of bullets,” Malala said. “Books, not bullets, will pave the path toward peace and prosperity... To all the students, you will read new books. You will discover new ideas. You will learn together. You will dream together. And you will inspire the world.”
While Malala’s birthday is over, you can still take part in the #BooksNotBullets campaign and Gharib encourages young people to get involved with the Malala Fund.
“One way to really help is take our advocacy actions and donate to the Malala Fund where we support local education programs for girls,” Gharib said, and listed off a couple examples. “There’s one in Lebanon, where there are camps for refugees, [in] Sierra Leone, where it’s been hard for girls to go to school because of the Ebola crisis.”
Three years ago, Malala almost lost her life for her belief all children deserve access to education. Now she’s got activists from all around the world behind her.
“Our voices will continue to get louder and louder until we see politicians and our governments invest in the education of their youth rather than military and war,” she declared.