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  • One of the most powerful advocates for children's education is a Pakistani girl who nearly died

  • at the hands of the Taliban, simply because she insisted on going to school. And this

  • week, Malala Yousafzai turned her attention to the plight of children forced to leave

  • school as they fled the war in Syria.

  • We reached her at the largest refugee camp in Jordan, along the border with Syria, where

  • more than 100,000 Syrians are now crowded together. Malala and the head of her Malala

  • Fund, Shiza Shahid, were there to raise money to pay for schools and teachers at Zaatari

  • camp.

  • When they joined us via Skype, Malala told of seeing families arriving with almost nothing.

  • MALALA YOUSAFZAI: When I came here, and when I went to the Jordanian-Syrian border, and

  • when I saw children, they had no shoes and they were wearing dirty clothes and they had

  • a long walk in the desert for, like, 10 and 15 hours. I just felt something in my heart

  • that what is their sin, what have they done that they have to migrate, why are these innocent

  • children suffering from such hard situation, why are they deprived of school, why are they

  • deprived of peaceful environment?

  • MONTAGNE: Will, I'd like to put to Shiza Shahid one question: you've also been meeting these

  • children. Is there a story that struck you as suggestive of what many of them are going

  • through?

  • SHIZA SHAHID: I'll tell you a story. Yesterday, we were at the Syrian-Jordanian border where

  • refugees cross over. And you don't realize what that means 'til you see it. They literally

  • walk across miles of barren desert with nothing in their hand, half of their family left behind

  • in Syria, fighting or dead. And so as I watched that, I approached this boy - he was about

  • three years old and had the most beautiful green eyes and I started to play with him.

  • And his mother turned to me apologetically and said I bathed him before he left but the

  • desert was very dusty. And in those words, I realized how deeply she was clinging on

  • to, not just hope, but her dignity as a human being, having left everything behind. She

  • wanted me to know that her child wasn't dirty because she didn't know how to keep him clean,

  • though, because the desert was dusty. And that was incredibly moving to me. Giving these

  • people an education will give them back that dignity.

  • MONTAGNE: Are there schools in the camp at all, Jordan's largest camp?

  • SHAHID: Yes, there are three schools and there's about 50,000 children here.

  • MONTAGNE: Three schools serving 50,000 children.

  • SHAHID: Yeah.

  • YOUSAFZAI: Only three schools. And what happens, I saw so many boys and they were doing some

  • child labor. They were collecting some stones. The children are contributing to their family

  • through child labor. They have to work, they have to earn something for their family, for

  • their food, for their basic needs, such as water.

  • SHAHID: Renee, if I may pitch in, you know, there's a very high concentration of female-led

  • households amongst the Syrian refugees because so many of the men are at war or have been

  • killed in the fighting. And so a lot of children are having to bear the burdens that their

  • fathers used to. And in addition they've had to leave behind all their possessions, which

  • is increasing the incidences of child labor, which Malala refers to.

  • MONTAGNE: I'm wondering, in the middle of this war - and it's a very vicious war - these

  • kids who are among the refugees, they need shelter, they need food, but tell us how important

  • is it for a child to have a school to go to?

  • YOUSAFZAI: A child learns every day in something new. But if he is living in an environment

  • where he sees violence, where he sees bad people, it has a very bad influence on their

  • child. But if he's in a different environment, in a healthy environment, in an environment

  • where he can learn, he's going to school, he has teachers, he is learning how to work

  • in groups and how to work in collaboration with each other, so then it has a good impact

  • on the child's future.

  • MONTAGNE: Malala, do these children know you when they meet you? Do they know your story?

  • YOUSAFZAI: I think most of these children does not know who I am, but they know me as

  • Malala, a girl, their friend. They do not know me as, like, a celebrity, kind of god,

  • but they just know me from their heart. And they have been my friend. And they're so nice

  • to me. They love me and I like that. They know me as Malala, as a girl.

  • MONTAGNE: Well, Shiza Shahid and Malala Yousafzai, thank you both, very much, for joining us.

  • SHAHID: Thank you so much, Renee.

  • YOUSAFZAI: Thank you.

  • MONTAGNE: They spoke to us from the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan across the border from

  • Syria.

  • (SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

  • MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

One of the most powerful advocates for children's education is a Pakistani girl who nearly died

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Malala Fund Tries To Help Educate Child Refugees From Syria

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    kevin posted on 2014/10/12
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