‘A school without books is just a shell.’

A refugee from Somalia, Sayid Aden Ali now works for IFED, an organisation which has set up 16 schools in Somalia, giving thousands of children an opportunity to learn.

My name is Sayid Aden Ali. I am the Head of Programmes for Iftiin Education (IFED), a Somalia-led organisation established by a group of young Somali students based in the UK.  Its primary goal was to set up schools in Central Somalia, where years of civil war have ruined the education infrastructure. IFED started constructing its first school in Central Somalia in 2006. There are now 16 primary and secondary schools and thousands of children attend them.

Students at an IFED school with donated books

The conflict in the 90’s disrupted our education system, and when it started again, the only schools we had were located in the capital and bigger cities.  In smaller towns and rural areas, schools were non-existent which meant that children there were being left behind. Since we set up the schools, people who have gone through our schooling system are now able to compete. They have equal opportunities. 

For some of these students, the first opportunity they have to study is through the IFED schools. Their parents never went to school, so they are the first generation in their family to attend. They have aspirations, they want to study abroad, they want to go to India or Malaysia or Uganda, and to go there you require English to study. This is why English-language books are useful to the students.    

Until Book Aid International gave us a donation of books we didn’t have much variety.  The books we had in schools were kind of strict and boring curriculum texts and there was nothing else. The books we have now received from Book Aid International compliment what the children are learning, allowing them to reach their full potential.  

Without the books, you put a cap on what the students are able to learn.  The books remove that cap. A school without books, there’s something missing, it is just a shell.

I came to the UK at six years old as a refugee from Somalia. Before that I had never been to a library, I hadn’t been to school.  I didn’t speak English, but here you can get books in the library like The World in Pictures and you can see the pyramids, it really allows you to dream.  As a child I couldn’t travel, I couldn’t go anywhere, but I could see the world in a book and I would just let my imagination run wild and flourish, and dream. This is the power of books.  I hope this is the impact they will have on the children in Somalia who pick up these books. 

We really want to turn that notion of illiteracy upside down in Somalia. We want to see an educated society who can reach their full potential, who have no barriers in terms of what they’re able to do, who can contribute to society. It’s really giving them that foundation, that’s what we want to achieve.   

Read more from our blog

Hay Festival 2024

Find out more about our event at Hay Festival this month, where our Vice Patron, Lord Paul Boateng will be joined in conversation by writers Elif Shafak and Priscilla Morris

Read more

Attracting new readers

Hear from our Head of Programmes, Samantha Sokoya, about our 2023/24 Community Reading Award Winners!

Read more