(GIN) – Zannah Mustapha, a champion for the rights of displaced children growing up amid violence in north-eastern Nigeria, is the 2017 winner of the Nansen Refugee Award, U.N. officials announced this week.
In the first online Facebook video of the U.N. agency, long-time journalist Yvonne Ndege recounted how Mr. Mustapha established the Future Prowess Islamic Foundation which houses a school for orphan children of both Boko Haram and the security forces and widows in Maiduguri – the epicenter of the Boko Haram insurgency.
Over a decade, the school has grown from 36 students to 540. In 2016, Mr. Mustapha opened a second school just a few kilometers away from the first. Eighty-eight children, all of whom have fled conflict in the region, walk through its classroom doors each day.
The schools provide children affected by violence a free education, as well as free meals, uniforms and health care.
“Education is one of the most powerful tools for helping refugee children overcome the horrors of violence and forced displacement.” said the U.N.’s refugee commissioner Filippo Grandi. “The work Mustapha and his team are doing is of the utmost importance. With this award, we honor his vision and service.”
“This school promotes peace,” Mr. Mustapha said. “It is a place where every child matters,” adding: “These children shall be empowered in such a way that they can stand on their own.”
In addition to his education work, Mr. Mustapha was instrumental in setting up a cooperative for widows, providing much-needed support for nearly 600 women in Maiduguri.
A lawyer turned property developer in Borno state, Mr. Mustapha also took part in mediating between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government.
Mr. Mustapha will take home prize money of $150,000, funded by the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Swiss government, the Norwegian government and the IDEA Foundation, to fund a project that complements their existing work.
A Ugandan group – International Youth Organization to Transform Africa – was among the runners-up. Its mission is to transform the lives of young refugees, particularly girls, through education. w/pix of Z. Mustapha