He Fled War in Syria at 12. By 16 He'd Built a School for Refugees

Mohamad Al Jounde was just 12 years old when he and his family fled to Lebanon in 2013 to escape violence in war-torn Syria. He still remembers the 2011 protests and the subsequent crackdown that later spiraled into a civil war. The bombs that destroyed the houses in his hometown are not a distant memory.

In spite of the brutality of war, Al Jounde wanted to do something to help displaced child refugees who, like him, could no longer go to school and dream of a better future.

With the help of his family, who believed in his dream to help others in spite of all the adversity war had brought upon them, Mohamad built a school in a refugee camp in Lebanon's Beqaa Valley.

"I could not go to school for two years because of our financial situation. I knew how important education is. School is not just a place where you can read and write, but also a place where you can express yourself freely," Mohamad told Newsweek.

Mohamad, who now lives in Sweden with his father, taught fellow refugees Math, English and Photography, which helped them to cope with their trauma. His school, which he built with the help of donations from several organizations, now provides education to up to 200 child refugees.

Mohamad Al Jounde
Mohamad Al Jounde KidsRights

Mohamad received the International Children's Peace Prize, an initiative by the KidsRights Foundation, for his efforts to help displaced children receive an education.

"I know now that people around the world appreciate the work that we did. I feel really excited because I now have a good platform and a bigger audience," he explains.

"We are all guilty of what is happening in Syria and around the world, where children are losing their rights. Children are strong people and we should work with them to fix our mistakes and become better people."

Nobel peace laureate and children's rights advocate Malala Yousafzai awarded the prize to Mohamad during a ceremony at the Hague on December 4.

Mohamad Al Jounde
Mohamad Al Jounde, from Syria, receives the International Children’s Peace Price from Malala Yousafzai. Jerry Lampen/KidsRights

Malala, who was shot in the head by Taliban militants in Pakistan when she was 15 because she defied local rules to campaign for girls' education, said: "Mohamad's efforts to provide Syrian child refugees with access to education, are very dear to me.

"From a young age, I've been fighting for the right of girls to go to school. When I won the Children's Peace Prize back in 2013, this offered me a platform to deliver my message to millions of people around the globe. I'm very happy that Mohamad will now get the same extraordinary opportunity to attract worldwide attention for his important work," she continued.

The seven-year-long Syrian civil war has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced 11 million. More than 2.5 million Syrian children are refugees, about 500,000 of whom are residing in Lebanon, KidsRights said.