Afro Deli owner ships over 100,000 books to Somalia, Djibouti

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Abdirahman Kahin has no trouble sleeping. You’d think the owner of Afro Deli would, considering how much he fits into his schedule.

Aside from managing three — make that four in the spring — Afro Deli locations across the Twin Cities, Kahin recently sponsored the shipment of more than 110,000 books to Somalia and Djibouti through the St. Paul-based nonprofit Books for Africa.

Kahin came to Minnesota in 1997 from Somalia for better schooling and opportunities. In the late ’90s, Kahin said, finding East African community members and a centralized community was difficult. As more East Africans moved to the Twin Cities in the early 2000s, it became easier to find food he grew up with, people to go to the mosque with and friends to play soccer with. In 2010, Kahin and former owner Faruk Cingilli opened their first Afro Deli location in Cedar Riverside.

The original mission behind Afro Deli was to bring communities together through food by creating an approachable menu with classic bites and some creativity. On the menu, customers can find cheeseburgers below Somali steak sandwiches and gyros, sambusas (a Somali stuffed pastry) and hot and spicy chicken wings.

Today, Kahin says, Minnesota remains the desired destination for East African refugees. “Those refugees in the refugee camps who are accepted to come to the U.S., their first choice is Minnesota,” Kahin said. “The Somali community in Minnesota is the most vibrant community outside of Somalia or Djibouti: We have a lot of politicians. We have a lot of businesses. We have a lot of educated people. We’re very visible.”

Born in Somalia and raised in Djibouti, Kahin is one visible change-maker in the Twin Cities. By working with Books for Africa, the largest shipper of donated textbooks and library books to Africa, Kahin has sent five semi-trucks full of books to libraries, universities or other book beneficiaries in Africa.

“He’s clearly one of our important contacts, not only because of his fundraising background and his philanthropic spirit,” said Patrick Plonski, executive director of Books for Africa. “I don’t go to Djibouti and Somalia with the frequency he does. So somebody like Kahin is a critical connector to make sure that our books are getting to the right recipients.”