Somali education advocate wins United Nations refugee prize

Abdullahi Mire, a former Somali refugee, has been awarded the UN refugee agency's Nansen award for his dedicated efforts to provide education and books to his fellow refugee compatriots in the expansive Dadaab Refugee Camps in Kenya.

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Abdullahi Mire, the winner of the UN refugee agency's Nansen Award, delivers a speech during a ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland, December 13, 2023. Martial Trezzini/Pool via REUTERS

At age 36, Mire, through his initiative, brought 100,000 books to children and advocated for their education in the overcrowded Dadaab camps. Speaking with AFP, Mire expressed his belief in the transformative power of books, stating, “A book can change someone’s future. I want every child who is displaced to get the opportunity of education.”

According to Africanews, UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi described Abdullahi Mire as “living proof that transformative ideas can spring from within displaced communities,” as he announced the prize.

Originally from Somalia, Mire and his family sought refuge in Kenya during turmoil when he was still a child. Despite the challenging conditions in the Dadaab camps, Mire completed his primary and secondary education and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism and PR.

Mire, revealing his source of inspirition said; “My case is rare, and that inspires me to give back.” After moving to Norway a decade ago, Mire felt compelled to return to his birth country, where a crucial moment in his career occurred when Hodan Bashir Ali requested a biology book. Mire bought the book for her, and Hodan is now a qualified registered nurse pursuing a career as a medical doctor.

Inspired by this, Mire founded the Refugee Youth Education Hub, raising awareness about refugees’ education needs and collecting book contributions. To date, over 100,000 books have been introduced into the camps, and three libraries have been established.

Mire emphasized the therapeutic value of books, especially for traumatized individuals who have experienced war. “Books are the best way to heal,” he noted, highlighting the increasing participation of refugees in higher education through the programme.

The Nansen award, named after Norwegian polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen, comes with a monetary prize of $100,000, to be reinvested in humanitarian initiatives. Mire received the award at a ceremony in Geneva on December 13.

Reflecting on the honour, Mire remarked, It’s “a huge honour for all refugee-led organisations.” Philanthropist or not, anyone has the ability to bring about change. One does not necessarily have to be a politician, a celebrity, or a tycoon to make an impact. Everyone has a part to play to improve the quality of people’s lives.

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