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Not many teenagers celebrate their 18th birthday by opening a school for refugee girls, but then Malala Yousafzai isn’t a typical 18-year-old.
Malala—a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate who gained world-wide renown after surviving a point-blank shot to the head by a Taliban gunman—turned 18 on Sunday, July 12.
— Malala Fund (@MalalaFund) July 12, 2015
Malala celebrated by spending the day opening a secondary school for Syrian refugee girls in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, near Syria’s border. According to the Malala Fund, Yousafzai’s nonprofit organization that is helping to support the new school, more than 200 Syrian girls between ages 14 and 18 will receive their education at the school.
“I am honored to mark my 18th birthday with the brave and inspiring girls of Syria,” said Malala in a statement on the fund’s blog. “I am here on behalf of the 28 million children who are kept from the classroom because of armed conflict. Their courage and education to continue their schooling in difficult conditions inspires people around the world and it is our duty to stand by them. 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.”
Though she is now an adult, Malala vows to continue fighting for children’s rights to education. “My father has been doing it as a teacher and I will continue to do it as a woman,” she said. “As an adult, you can be the voice of children.”
Malala’s film, He Named Me Malala, opens in theaters October 15.