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Syrian boy who started school for refugees when he was 12 wins Children’s Peace Prize

Syrian Mohamad Al Jounde, 16, celebrates after receiving the International Children’s Peace Prize, presented to him by Pakistani activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai on Dec. 4 in The Hague. (Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/AFP/Getty Images)

A Syrian teenager who started a school for refugees when he was 12 years old was awarded the International Children’s Peace Prize, given annually to a child who fights for the rights of other children.

Mohamad Al Jounde, who is now 16, received the prize at a ceremony on Monday in the Netherlands from Malala Yousafzai, now 20, who was the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize, sharing the 2014 award with Kailash Satyarthi. Mohamad was chosen from 151 nominees.

The teenager was forced to flee his homeland because of the brutal Syrian civil war and started a school in a refugee camp in Lebanon. This is his story, taken from the prize’s website:

Mohamad, 16 years old, grew up in Syria, but fled for Lebanon when life became too dangerous at home. Like thousands of other refugee children in the country, he couldn’t go to school, so he set out to make a difference for children in the same situation. Despite … the difficult circumstances he was living in, Mohamad built a school in a refugee camp. At the age of 12 already, he was teaching math and photography. Now 200 children access here their right to an education. Mohamad helps children to heal, learn and have fun with games and photography. He is a natural storyteller, raising awareness about the challenges refugee children face by bringing their stories to a wider audience.

The winner of the prize receives a scholarship that enables the recipient to go through school, including earning a university degree, as well as living costs for the entire family of the awardee, if necessary.

The International Children’s Peace Prize was founded by Marc Dullaert, chairman and founder of the Amsterdam-based KidsRights Foundation, which promotes children’s rights around the world, focusing on children making their own change. It honors young people who work to improve the lives of other children, and winners receive their awards each year from a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Dullaert was the first Ombudsman for children in the Netherlands and was president of the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children, which links independent offices established in European countries to promote children’s fundamental rights.

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Malala Yousafzai, who as a child advocated for the rights of girls to get an education, was shot by a Taliban gunman but survived. She became a leader in the struggle of millions of girls trying to get an education without fear from those who want to deny them that right for religious, political or cultural reasons.