Taipei-A teenage girl who was driven by war from her homeland but who stayed optimistic and shared that spirit with children who suffered a similar fate, was one of the winners of the 7th Asian Girl Awards, presented in Taipei on Sunday.
The 7th Asian Girl Awards ceremony, held alongside the 17th Formosan Awards, are organized by Taiwan's 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 in life, and her efforts in comforting other traumatized young refugees like her.
"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 was brave enough to venture onto the streets of Damascus during the Syrian Revolution and shout "we want freedom" together with other demonstrators.
That happened days after Syrian authorities arrested her mother, who had joined the street protests during that period.
Fortunately, her mother was able to regain 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 BK, an 18-year-old girl 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 girl's empowerment project in a country where news of young girls being abused is common.
Chen Liang-Yan (???), 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 (STEM).
Myagmarsuren Gansukh, a 16-year-old girl from Mongolia, won the Asian Girl Human Rights Award for championing girl's rights in school, in her community and in her country.
Meanwhile, at this year's Formosan Girl Awards, a total of 40 girls from Taiwan were nominated in the five categories -- Community Development, Courage and Adventure, Special Creativity, Math and Technology, and Sports -- and three in each category, or a total of 18, were named winners.
Chang Yu-hsin (???), one of the winners of the Formosan Girl Community Development Award, grew up in the fishing village of Donggang in southern Taiwan and learned to be independent because her father was long 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 children welfare institutions every weekend since her third year in high school.
Together 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.
In a statement, Chi Hui-jung (???), executive director of the Garden of Hope Foundation, said the awards was established for the advocacy and the promotion of girl's empowerment in Taiwan and in Asia because of gender inequality.
The foundation is a nongovernment, nonprofit group established in 1988 to help disadvantaged girls and young women, especially girls caught in the sex industry, survivors of sexual abuse and domestic violence, and survivors of human trafficking.
The award ceremony was held in advance of "Taiwan Girls Day," which falls annually on October 11 after its establishment in 2013 by Taiwan's Executive Yuan, a year after the United Nations declared the same date as the International Day of the Girl Child.
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel