Just weeks after the New York City premiere of her Netflix war movie First They Killed My Father, Angelina Jolie donned her humanitarian hat to send a taped message to Nigerian mediator Zannah Mustapha, who she praised as an “inspiration.”
Appearing on camera Monday to address the United Nation’s prestigious Nansen Refugee Award in Geneva, Switzerland, Jolie added that Mustupha – who has provided free schools for children in an area blighted by Islamic fundamentalists, Boko Haram – possessed “extraordinary” courage.
“Zannah Mustapha runs his school in the midst of the Boko Harem insurgency in Nigeria,” said Jolie in the video. “In the teeth of brutal conflict in which schools and school children are deliberately targeted, the courage it takes to defend children’s rights to education in the face of Boko Haram is extraordinary.
Angelina Jolie at the Toronto International Film Festival
“Mustapha has brought light to a region that has been terrorized for years. He has made his community stronger. Girls and boys, who might otherwise have been lost, now feel that they have a future.”
Earlier in her speech, Jolie, 42, provided a glimpse of the sights she has seen through her own eyes while working as a Special Envoy for the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which has seen the Oscar winner highlight the causes of refugees in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
“There is nothing more important in the life of any person than the chance to have an education, yet millions of children have their education disrupted by war,” added Jolie. “I have seen the impact this has on young refugees: denying them a safe place to study and play; taking their dreams away from them; limiting their possibilities to work and making them even more vulnerable.”
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In Zannah Mustapha’s case this has seen him create two school in Maiduguri, Nigeria – the heartland of a Boko Haram insurgency that has killed 20,000 and displaced millions more. Along with free education, free meals, uniforms and health care, Mustapha welcomes orphaned children from both sides of the conflict into his classrooms in the hope that it will encourage the warring parties to reconcile.
Mustapha also previously brokered a deal between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government that resulted in the release of more than 100 kidnapped Chibok girls. Most recently, he rehoused 800 displaced families on his own land, providing them a water source to grow crops and become self-sustainable.
“This school promotes peace. It is a place where every child matters,” Mustapha said upon receiving the award on Monday. “These children shall be empowered, empowered in such a way that they can stand on their own.”
Jolie, added, “Mr. Mustapha, you are an inspiration. I hope this award will encourage you and others to continue this vital work.”