Somali refugee wins U.N. award for efforts to educate displaced children

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This handout picture by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) shows Abdullahi Mire, the winner of the U.N. refugee agency’s prestigious Nansen Award posing for a picture in one of the libraries he established in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp. | Photo Credit: AFP
This handout picture by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) shows Abdullahi Mire, the winner of the U.N. refugee agency’s prestigious Nansen Award posing for a picture in one of the libraries he established in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp. | Photo Credit: AFP

By: AFP

A former Somali refugee intent on bringing books and education to his compatriots languishing in sprawling camps in Kenya was on Tuesday named the winner of the UN refugee agency’s prestigious Nansen Award.

Abdullahi Mire was hailed for championing the right to education by putting 1,00,000 books in the hands of children in Kenya’s crowded Dadaab refugee camps.

“A book can change someone’s future,” Mr. Mire said in an interview.

“I want every child who is displaced to get the opportunity of education.”

a picture in one of the libraries he established in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp. | Photo Credit: AFP

A former Somali refugee intent on bringing books and education to his compatriots languishing in sprawling camps in Kenya was on Tuesday named the winner of the UN refugee agency’s prestigious Nansen Award.

Abdullahi Mire was hailed for championing the right to education by putting 1,00,000 books in the hands of children in Kenya’s crowded Dadaab refugee camps.

“A book can change someone’s future,” Mr. Mire said in an interview.

“I want every child who is displaced to get the opportunity of education.”

‘Transformative ideas’

Announcing the prize, United Nations refugee chief Filippo Grandi described Mr. Mire in a statement as “living proof that transformative ideas can spring from within displaced communities”.

Mr. Mire was born in Somalia, but amid unrest there his family fled to Kenya when he was a young child.

He spent 23 years in Dadaab — a sprawling complex of three camps that were initially built in the 1990s to host some 90,000 refugees, but which today are home to around 3,70,000, according to UN figures.

This handout picture taken on October 25, 2023 and made available on November 28, 2023 by the UNHCR shows Abdullahi Mire (left) distributing books to refugee students in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp.

This handout picture taken on October 25, 2023 and made available on November 28, 2023 by the UNHCR shows Abdullahi Mire (left) distributing books to refugee students in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp. | Photo Credit: AFP

Against what the UNHCR described as “monumental odds”, Mr. Mire not only completed his primary and secondary education in the camp, but managed to go on to complete a degree in journalism and public relations.

“My case is rare, and that inspires me to give back,” he said.

Mr. Mire, who on occasion has worked for Agence France Presse , was resettled to Norway around a decade ago, but while he liked living there, he soon decided to return to Kenya.

“Europe is nice and safe, but it depends what you want in life,” he said from Nairobi.

“There was something telling me that I could have an impact here, more than in Oslo.”

Back in Kenya, he was working as a journalist and reporting a story in Dadaab one day when a girl named Hodan Bashir Ali approached him and asked if he could help find her a biology book.

She wanted to be a doctor, she said, but at her school 15 students had to share a single text book.

‘Start of the calling’

“That was the start of my calling,” Mr. Mire said, adding that he bought the book for young Hodan, who is now a registered nurse and still aspiring to become a doctor.

“That book opened a door for Hodan,” he said. “She is inspiring.”

This handout picture taken on November 10, 2023 and made available on November 28, 2023 by the UNHCR shows Abdullahi Mire (centre-left) meeting with youth in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp.

This handout picture taken on November 10, 2023 and made available on November 28, 2023 by the UNHCR shows Abdullahi Mire (centre-left) meeting with youth in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp. | Photo Credit: AFP

Mr. Mire decided to set up the Refugee Youth Education Hub, raising awareness about refugees’ educational needs and seeking book donations.

To date, the refugee-led organisation has brought 1,00,000 books into the camps, and has opened three libraries.

“When you read a book, it is like you are travelling the world,” Mr. Mire said.

And for people traumatised by the conflict and wars they have fled, “books are the best way to heal”.

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