Syrian activist Muzoon Almellehan receives German peace prize | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 07.02.2020
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Syrian activist Muzoon Almellehan receives German peace prize

Not even the Syrian Civil War could diminish a teenage Almellehan's hunger for education. As a refugee in a Jordanian camp, she rallied for children's access to education — and she's been battling for it ever since.

Just a few years ago, when she was 14 years old, bombs started to fall on Muzoon Almellehan's hometown of Daraa, in southwestern Syria. Civil war was intensifying, and her parents saw escape as the only alternative. They left the country with their four children in 2013.

They landed in Jordan, in Za'atari, the second-largest refugee camp in the world. Although her father has asked her to pack only the bare necessities, Muzoon, now 21, carried a suitcase full of books with her.

"Even as a child, I knew that education was the key to my future, so when I fled Syria, the only belongings I took with me were my school books," she said in June 2017.

'No one can take away your education'

Despite her exceptional situation, Almellehan was still hungry to learn. But education was not a priority for most people in the camp, where a feeling of hopelessness prevailed, so they did not participate in the educational opportunities offered. Almellehan went from tent to tent to try and convince parents and children of the importance of school. "If you have an education, no one can it away from you," she said again and again.

Malala Yousafzai and Muzoon Almellehan

Nobel laureate and huiman rights advocate Malala Yousafzai (L) met Muzoon Almellehan (R) in 2015

Those were the seeds of Almellehan's commitment to achieving better access to education in crisis areas. In 2017 she was appointed UNICEF goodwill ambassador — the youngest ever, at 19, and the first with official refugee status.

In this capacity, Almellehan, who now lives in Britain, has returned to Za'atari, met girls in Chad who fled from Boko Haram and spoken to senior political representatives at the G20 summit in Hamburg about the millions of children forced to flee their homes as a result of conflicts, wars or natural disasters. Time magazine named her one of the 30 most influential teenagers in the world in 2017.

Almellehan is proud of her work as a UNICEF ambassador: "As a refugee, I saw what happens when children are forced into early marriage or manual labor" she said. "They lose out on education and they lose out on possibilities for the future," she added.

Listen to audio 05:12

UNICEF's youngest goodwill ambassador, Muzoon Almellehan

Tireless battle

On Sunday, February 9, Germany honors Almellehan's commitment with the Dresden Peace Prize. The prize association praised her extraordinary courage and commitment.

"In the face of great resistance, she has stood up for children and young people, and she continues to fight for their educational opportunities," Beate Spiegel of the Klaus Tschira Foundation, which sponsors the €10,000 ($11,000) award. "Education is perhaps the greatest good that can be given to young people who have had to flee. It paves the way for regaining dignity and meaning after the trauma of expulsion," 

Kim Phuc Phan Thi, the 2019 prizewinner, is scheduled to give the honorific speech. The woman is known as the "Napalm Girl" thanks to a 1972 photo taken during the Vietnam War that shows her as a child, naked and screaming after a napalm attack on her village. The image contributed to a change in attitude among Americans toward the war.

The International Peace Prize "Dresden Prize," as it is officially known, will be awarded in 2020 for the 11th year. The ceremony takes place in the Dresden Semperoper. Previous laureates include former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Argentine-born pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim and the US war photographer James Nachtwey.

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