The following article was originally published on the Malala Fund blog.
Two days ago, I landed in northern Iraq, just as the government declared victory in Mosul. Fighting in the streets may be over, but our fight for girls continues.
I chose to spend my birthday this year in Iraq to meet girls like 13-year-old Nayir. When extremists occupied Mosul, Nayir could not go to school for three years. Her family fled the city in April, when her father was captured by ISIS. They haven’t heard from him since.
Nayir is one of three million displaced people in Iraq. Half are children and almost half of them aren’t in school. The odds are worse for girls.
When Nayir fled Mosul, she was determined to go back to school. “No matter what, nothing will keep me from finishing my studies,” she told me. Her new classroom is a small tent in the camp. She just took her exams in sweltering heat.
But Nayir knows that education is her best chance for a better future. After all she has suffered, she described the feeling of returning to school: “It was as if all my hopes came back.”
I know how Nayir feels.
When my family fled violence in my home in Swat Valley, Pakistan, I spent every day wondering if I would return to the classroom. I thought, at only 11 years old, that my future was lost.
While I’m in Iraq, I will meet many girls who share my story. These girls — Iraqi, Kurdish, Christian, Yazidi, Syrian — have all suffered violence and fear in their young lives.
They could have hope for the future, hope to build better lives for themselves. But today, most of them cannot go to school.
We should not ask children forced to flee their homes to also give up their education and their dreams. We cannot allow girls like Nayir to fight alone.
I am so grateful you are with me.
This post originally appeared on Malala Fund.