When sixteen year old Muzon Almellehan fled Syria with her
family to the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, worrying that
her familywould marry her off as a child to a complete stranger was the least of her concerns.
Yet shortly after fleeing Syria and resettling with her family at the camp, she noticed a steady decline in attendance on behalf of her fellow female classmates in many of her classes. Concerned by this trend, Muzoon soon learned that her fellow war survivors’ parents had lost hope that education would provide their daughters with the upward mobility they needed to succeed beyond their refugee status. Instead of investing in books and enrolling their daughters in school, Muzoon witnessed families choosing to marry their young daughters off to Jordanian men outside of the camp as a hopeful exit.
A once quiet individual, Muzoon became a campaigning champion in the camp for children’s rights to education. Alongside UNICEF and Save the Children representatives, Muzoon has walked the streets of her new home encouraging families to choose education over premature forced marriages for their daughters. This is no small feat; in a camp with more than 122,000 refugees (becoming Jordan’s fifth largest city) the fate of girls’ education in Za’atari relies on the strength of Muzoon’s message.
“Girls are the foundation of our society. Girls will become mothers and they will tell their sons and daughters about the value of education. There is no betterinvestment in the society, in the future of entire nations than investing in a girl’s education. When I had to flee to Jordan I thought this will be the end of my life. But it really was the beginning of something new, the start of my life-long challenge to fight against child marriage and for education for my fellow, beloved Syrian girls.” (http://tinyurl.com/q85zvsd)
Muzoon’s campaign has gained attention beyond Za’atari’s borders as well. UNHCR and Malala Yousafzai – winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for her fight to defend girls’ rights to education – have responded to Muzoon’s struggle with visits to the camp to support her campaign. Her shared fight against investing in bombs and bullets, and instead in girls and education to build stronger, successful communities has earned her a new title around the camp: ‘the Malala of Syria’.
For many, buying into Muzoon’s message isn’t easy. Fear of abduction, abuse, and death taunt families, inevitably forcing them to make these undesirable decisions. Some in the camp have capitalized on this fear; a wedding business has grown quickly in the camp, with refugees marrying off their young daughters to Jordanians with hopes they’ll live a better life than that in a refugee camp.
When asked why education was so important to her, Muzoon replied: “It’s the only way you can be a member of society, not a burden to it. I want to see girls in school uniforms, not wedding dresses.” (http://tinyurl.com/q85zvsd)