A teenage girl who was driven from her homeland by war, but who stayed optimistic and shared that spirit with children who suffered a similar fate, was one of the winners of the Seventh Asian Girl Awards, presented in Taipei on Sunday.
The Asian Girl Awards ceremony, held alongside the 17th Formosan Awards, is organized by the Garden of Hope Foundation to highlight the achievements of girls.
Sama Hejazi, a 15-year-old girl born in Damascus, won the first-ever Asian Girl Special Award because of her optimism and courage, and her efforts in comforting traumatized young refugees.
“We all are here today to show the world that Asian girls are not weak. They have the capacity to make freedom,” Hejazi said after receiving the award.
In March 2011, at the age of eight, Hejazi ventured out onto the streets of Damascus during the Syrian Revolution and shouted “We want freedom” with other demonstrators.
That happened days after Syrian authorities arrested her mother, who had joined the street protests during that period.
Fortunately, her mother regained her freedom, but only after her father turned over all their savings to government security forces guarding the facility where her mother was held.
Hejazi and her family fled to Egypt in 2013 and finally settled in Turkey a year later. She later joined the Syrian Agency for Rescue and began to learn to play guitar.
Since then, she has used that skill to comfort girls, children and people with disabilities in Syrian refugee camps.
“I did not study human rights at school, but my work with children as a trainer made me feel how important it is to get education, to have the right to choose the type of musical instruments he or she likes and to create music they felt,” Hejazi said. “And that cannot be achieved without being free.”
Asha B.K., an 18-year-old from Nepal, won the Asian Girl Community Development Award for promoting self-defense training against violence and sexual abuse as a peer educator with a girls’ empowerment project in a country where news of young girls being abused is common.
Chen Liang-yan (陳亮妍), a senior-high school student from Taiwan, won the Asian Girl Math and Technology Award for proving that girls can also excel in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
Myagmarsuren Gansukh, a 16-year-old from Mongolia, won the Asian Girl Human Rights Award for championing girls’ rights in schools, in her community and in her country.
Meanwhile, at this year’s Formosan Girl Awards, 40 girls from Taiwan were nominated in five categories — Community Development, Courage and Adventure, Special Creativity, Math and Technology, and Sports — and three in each category, or a total of 15, were named winners.
Chang Yu-hsin (張又心), one of the winners of the Formosan Girl Community Development Award, grew up in the fishing village of Donggang Township (東港) in Pingtung County and learned to be independent because her father was bed-ridden and her mother was preoccupied with taking care of him.
That independence has been reflected in her drive to help others, including serving as a volunteer at child welfare institutions every weekend since her third year in high school.
With classmates, she has also initiated programs to revive tourism in a community in Kaohsiung and trained disadvantaged families to give them the needed skills to improve their family income.
The award ceremony was held in advance of “Taiwan Girls Day,” which falls annually on Oct. 11 after its establishment in 2013 by the Executive Yuan, a year after the UN declared the same date as the International Day of the Girl Child.
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