Nobel Peace Prize–winning Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai eschewed traditional teenage birthday festivities yesterday and celebrated her first day of adulthood by opening a school for Syrian refugees. The inspirational 18-year-old spent her birthday at the new school in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, which will help 200 Syrian girls earn baccalaureate and vocational degrees, as well as participate in skill courses designed to help them find work to generate their own incomes.
“I am here on behalf of the 28 million children who are kept from the classroom because of armed conflict,” Malala said in a statement. “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.”
Yousafzai’s nonprofit, the Malala Fund, is also calling on world leaders to invest an additional $39 billion in education — the equivalent, the organization notes, of eight days of military spending — to ensure that every child receives 12 years of free education. “Today, on my first day as an adult, on behalf of the world’s children, I demand our leaders invest in books instead of bullets,” Malala said yesterday. “Books, not bullets, will pave the path toward peace and prosperity.”