Refugee women leaders: Maya Ghazal

Student, activist, TedX speaker, pilot: there’s no limit to what Syrian refugee Maya Ghazal can do, which is why we’re spotlighting her achievements this Women’s History Month.

© UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

In 2015, Maya Ghazal fled Damascus, Syria leaving behind her home, her plans and dreams. With determination, hope and resilience she started a new life in the UK and is currently studying Aviation Engineering at Brunel University in London. 

21-year-old Maya has been a fierce advocate for those forced to flee she has been working with UNHCR since 2017, just two years after she fled Damascus, and is a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador. But before she started studying, Maya encountered numerous obstacles in trying to receive an education, despite her experience, knowledge and ambition.  

Maya recalls, “Arriving in the UK, I was very excited to start school, to meet new people and to acclimatise to this new life. But then I was hit by rejections from different schools. Although my English was not great, my knowledge of social sciences, physics and maths was not limited by language. 


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Maya’s story is just one of countless examples of refugee students having their education interrupted, threatening their ability to reach their full potential. Despite the obstacles, Maya was determined to move forward and get the education she dreamed of.  

“This year, I’m going to graduate with my bachelor’s degree. Next year, I’ve decided that I’m going to do my master’s degree,” Maya says.  

While studying at university, Maya is also training to become the first refugee woman pilot, a dream she works towards every day 

Maya remembers, “I became fascinated by airplanes – these amazing, big machines – and I wanted to control them. When everybody told me that I couldn’t become a pilot, I decided that is exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to tell them that I would become the first-ever female Syrian refugee pilot. It’s a dream that I worked towards every day. And I’ve now got my private pilot’s license.”  

A recipient of the Princess Diana Legacy Award, Maya is a prominent advocate for refugee rights and consistently uses her voice to try and dispel the negative rhetoric around the word refugee. 

In 2019, Maya gave a powerfully inspiring speech at TEDxPalaisDesNationsWomen in which she smashed stereotypes and offered five solutions to better understanding refugees and why we should invest in their limitless potential. 

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