Books For Africa Books Recipient Receives United Nations Award

Abdullahi Mire, a native of Somalia who fled violence at the age of three with his mother and two siblings and spent 23 years in a refugee camp in Kenya, was recently named as this year’s Nansen Global Laureate, the UN Refugee Agency’s highest honor. As Global Laureate, Mr. Mire will receive a commemorative medal and a monetary prize of US$100,000 to support his work with refugees. He was cited for his work supporting children in the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya, which included coordinating the shipment of nearly 30,000 books from Books For Africa in 2019, books which helped him open three libraries in the camp where students can study safely. He worked with BFA board member Louis Brownstone and BFA staff. The award was presented at the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva on Dec. 13. Previous winners include former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who offered haven to more than a million refugees and asylum seekers during the war in Syria.

Check out Mr. Mire receiving his award in Geneva in the video below, which includes footage of the nearly 30,000 books BFA sent to the Dadaab Refugee Camp and a speech by Mr. Mire himself.

"It was an honor to meet Abdullahi at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya and see firsthand the impact he is having on the local community," said Louis Brownstone.  "He is admirably supporting children's desire to read and advance, given an extreme lack of resources." In response to Mr. Mire's speech in Geneva, Brownstone added: "It's hard to imagine a better testament to the impact of books for those in need."

You can read more about Mr. Mire's work increasing access to books among refugees on the United Nations website at the links below:

Books For Africa was fortunate to sit down for an interview with Mr. Mire after he learned about receiving this award. Keep scrolling to learn more about his background and experience!

How did you meet Louis Brownstone and get involved with Books For Africa?

The Somali nurse/educator Sahra Noor (sister of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minneapolis) connected us with BFA staff and then Louis who raised the funds for shipping 30,000 books from St. Paul to Dadaab through his family business and friends. The Somali community supported us to re-build our first library. 

Louis also came to Dadaab with some of his friends from BFA and Ms. Noor. 

Why were the books in 2019 so important to your project?

Education gave me knowledge which gave me agency and together they gave me the power to make decisions about my own future. 

I work now so that every child displaced by conflict, climate, or natural disaster has that same opportunity.

When children have access to books, they can use their own agency to determine their own future.  

What impact did the books have?

Most refugee children have been told that education is the way to a better life. But they also see that only very few young people succeed in education. They have to fight against the odds, study harder to make up for the crowded classrooms and lack of resources. And do it every day, rain or shine, full belly or empty. They have to be exceptional to succeed.

So, for me, the most important impact the project has had is to increase the odds of success by removing the obstacles that cause young people to become discouraged. It is easier to believe in a better future when you have the tools to build that future yourself. The project has helped children to believe in themselves and succeed through their own efforts. And all we had to do was put a book in their hands.

What reaction did you get from the students who received the books? What was your personal reaction?

I want you to imagine for a moment a small girl in a hot, dusty classroom. There are 60 students in the room. Desks are shared. Books are shared. This small girl can’t sit still. She can’t pay attention because she can’t follow the lesson in her own textbook because seven girls in her class share a single book.

Now imagine that girl’s response when she’s given a brand-new textbook all her own. She feels valued. She is filled with curiosity. She holds a new kind of power in her own, two little hands.

That’s how students respond. They feel seen. They feel valued. And their curiosity is unleashed.

Why is this education work and the work with BFA so important to you?

I come from a country that has experienced violence, displacement, and repeated climate shocks over the past 40 years. I was forced to flee at 3 years old. I left everything behind and spent the next 23 years living in a refugee camp. I know how hard it is to get an education in a refugee camp. I know the struggle, and I know I can help. This work is important to me because I want children displaced by war to be the authors of their own destiny. 

What was your reaction to winning the UN award?

My immediate reaction was joy. The award comes with $100,000 of support for the work I do with Refugee Youth Education Hub. It means more books, more libraries, more support for women and girls, and more attention for the struggles of displaced children and youth. Since finding out I’d won, I’ve been faced with the responsibility to make the most of this platform, to gather even more resources to help my community, the community who raised me in Dadaab Refugee Camp. I take that responsibility seriously, and hope others are moved to support this work. 

Anything else you would like to add?

When I fled Somalia in my mother's arms 32 years ago, everything was taken from us. By supporting the work of Refugee Education Hub, you can help a child displaced by conflict acquire something that can never be taken away from her, an education. To support our work go to and click the donate button.