National Geographic points a wheelchair-bound Syrian refugee's eyes to the sky

Ad from 72andSunny documents the story of aspiring space explorer Nujeen Mustafa

Published On
Dec 03, 2018

Editor's Pick

Nujeen Mustafa, a refugee with cerebral palsy who made the arduous trek from Syria to Germany in a wheelchair, stars in a new spot for National Geographic from 72andSunny Los Angeles.

Though she had no formal schooling due to her condition, Mustafa learned English from American soap operas. When ISIS and Kurdish forces began fighting in her small town, she fled for Europe, pushed in her chair by her eldest sister. The 90-second spot presents a much-shortened version of the journey, along muddy tracks, cobblestone streets and across the Mediterranean in a rubber raft--which resulted in the now-famous photos of her arrival in Greece and worldwide attention, due in large part to her cheery disposition. Asked whether she had been afraid on the water, she replied, “No, I enjoyed it. I have never been on a boat before. It was very beautiful. I didn’t know if I was going to live or die, but thank God we are here.”


Let me tell you about an amazing young woman I met a few days ago. 16-year old Syrian refugee Nogeen, who is a wheelchair user due a balance deficiency she was born with, landed on the Greek island of Lesvos after crossing the Aegean in an inflatable boat from Turkey. She and her older sister Nisreen had made the journey along with 40 or so other Syrians. They left their home in Aleppo with their parents over 2 years ago and had been living in Turkey since then. The girls had decided to make the journey to Europe so that Nogeen could receive better medical attention. After a very rough crossing, which had left most of the passengers cold and terrified, Nogeen seemed extremely calm and happy. A fluent English speaker, when i asked if she had been afraid during the crossing she said “No i enjoyed it. I have never been on a boat before, It was very beautiful. I didn't know if I was going to live or die, but thanks God we are here”. UNHCR/ @ivorprickett --------------------------------------------#Greece #refugeecrisis #europe #lesvos #syrianrefugees #boat #documentary #photooftheday #photojournalism

A post shared by UN Refugee Agency (@refugees) on Sep 4, 2015 at 3:35am PDT

That same optimism is at the fore in the NatGeo spot. She experiences the small joys of the journey, sights, smells and tastes. Since her arrival in Europe, Mustafa has finally begun attending school. She’s given Ted Talks, and her story was penned by the same journalist who wrote Pakistani girls-rights activist Malala Yousafzai’s biography.

But through it all, Mustafa’s goal hasn’t changed. Like so many kids who have watched National Geographic images, she still wants to be an astronaut.