The magic of reading
Meet Koffi and Cisco. Originally from the Ivory Coast and Cameroon respectively, they now they live in London, having had to leave their homes and loved ones behind.
They visited our warehouse to help stamp books to send to Syrian refugees in Lebanon. While they were here, they told us about what brought them to the UK, the Islington Centre for Refugees that helped them to settle in and why they think it’s important for displaced people to have access to brand new books.
What brought you to the UK?
Koffi: I’m here due to the social-political situation in my country, the Ivory Coast. It’s been getting worse since 1999. We had big trouble in 2010 after the election, then war in 2011. Next year we are going to election and the political situation is really tense. The population is tense too. We don’t know what will happen in 2020, the fight is tight between politicians. That is reason why I am here.
Cisco: I’m from Cameroon. I came here after I took part in a demonstration and after that I was caught in trouble in my country so I had to fly and I got here.
How has the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants helped you since you arrived?
Cisco: The centre helped me in so many ways. It helped me in my learning, to improve my English and my communication skills. I have been improving because we have some classes. You can have a one on one tutoring and this is meant to bring you up quickly.
Koffi: Really, if I want to say how this centre helped me it will take all your time! They built up who I am: my English skills, helped me with health and accommodation issues and reach some educational goals. The centre helped me [during] so many challenges and provided psychological support through activities such as art classes, reading, singing, outings and sport.
This centre is a kind of therapy for us.
Being a refugee is not something you decide.
You have to face so many problems. When we are completely broken, [we] just go to the centre with [a] friend and have fun, sing. [With the centre we can] share everything. It is home for us.
Do you think it is important to send books to refugee camps for people to read?
Cisco: When you have a book with you and you read that book, it pushes the boundaries. The camp is like a prison, you cannot go out. So when you have a book it gives you something to think, to imagine. As you are reading, you are free; you don’t see those boundaries. A book gives you a place to improve yourself and your knowledge and your thinking. And this why I think a book is so powerful.
When you are a refugee in a camp you’ve left your homeland, you left your culture, you left your home. You left so many things for another place and it is very, very, very traumatic.
A book can connect you with what you left; your culture, origin, homeland.
You can use it to get through – to have some hope.
Also, books help you to keep your mind engaged and to have some thoughts to improve yourself. Although you may be in a warzone, even in those times there is a need to improve.
Koffi: When you are in a refugee camp, book[s] are a priority to develop your skills, to help you keep connections with things you were forced to leave behind. They also provide an opportunity to build new ambitions, reach new goals and give hope for the future.
It is like kind of magic, reading.
Only reading can bring this kind of feeling.