A 16-year-old Syrian refugee who fled to Lebanon won this year’s edition of the International Children’s Peace Prize Monday, in recognition of his efforts to promote children’s rights. Mohamad al-Jounde was awarded the prize for setting up a school in a Lebanese refugee camp close to the Bekaa town of Chtoura.
The prize was handed out by Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former Children’s Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who emphasized the importance of Jounde’s work by highlighting the plight of the 28 million children currently displaced around the world.
Jounde fled his hometown on the outskirts of Syria’s Hama with his family in 2013.
He began working on the school in Lebanon soon after settling in the Bekaa Valley to provide education to the many Syrian children who could not access the formal schooling system. He was just 12 years old when he started the project.
Today, the school hosts around 200 children and organizes training and workshops for adults as well.
“Education is not only about learning, it’s about reaching your better self, it’s about the knowledge you gain about your world or your country,” Jounde told The Daily Star.
Jounde was granted asylum in Sweden, where he lives with his father, but his mother and sister are continuing his work.
As a young refugee in Lebanon, Jounde was also deprived of the right to education for two years.
“I couldn’t go to school … it was a struggle,” he said. “But it brought out a will to fight for a better future, not just for me, but for the people in the same situation as me.”
Marc Dullaert, founder and chairman of the KidsRights Foundation – the organization that awards the Children’s Peace Prize – says he saw Jounde as a model of the strength that children possess to bring about positive change.
“Mohamad is a true change-maker: Confronted with what for many of us would seem as an insurmountable challenge, he decided to change the destiny of himself and his peers in the refugee camp,” Dullaert said.