Tag Archives: Ivory Coast

Koffi and Cisco stamping books

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.

Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants

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.


Koffi and Cisco
Koffi and Cisco were especially excited to stamp books by author Sita Brahmachari who is Author in Residence at the Islington Centre


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.

Koffi and Cisco stamping books

London based refugees volunteer to help send books to refugees in Jordan

On Tuesday June 18th two refugees from the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants joined forces with UK charity Book Aid International, volunteering their time to stamp over 500 children’s books in Arabic to Syrian refugees sheltering in Jordan and over 100 additional books written by best-selling authors Sita Brahmachari and Onjali Q. Raúf to English speaking refugees in Africa.

Both have found that books and art have provided a positive outlet and helped them cope with the experience of displacement and were very pleased to be helping other displaced people access books.

Koffi is from Ivory Coast. He fled violence around the elections which took place in the country in 2010 and subsequent conflict in 2011. He spoke of the importance of access to book and learning saying:

“When you are in the camp, you left your homeland, your culture, so many things. It’s very traumatic. When you get a book, it can be a platform for you to connect to what you have left. And from this platform, you can get through. You can have some hope, some joy.”

Cisco also believes that people who have fled home must have the opportunity to read. He is from The Cameroon and was forced to leave after being part of a demonstration:

“When you have a book with you, it pushes the boundaries. The camp is as a prison – we cannot go out. So when you have a book, it gives you something to imagine. As you are reading, you are free and you don’t see those boundaries anymore. You are free in your mind.”

An estimated 1.3 million refugees live in Jordan and the Arabic books which Koffi and Cisco have stamped have been specially selected to support children’s reading and learning through NGO We Love Reading. The group works to instil a love of reading through read-aloud activities with trained volunteers. We Love Reading supports refugees in Jordan as part of its work and has so far served over 400,000 displaced children.

Sita Brahmachari’s books all tell empowering stories of people who have been displaced, providing hope for the future. They will reach South Sudanese refugees sheltering in Kenya and Uganda – including the world’s biggest refugee settlement, Bidi Bidi in Uganda.

Sita spoke of her feelings about knowing that the books she has written will reach refugees in Africa, saying: “I have written about many different aspects of refugee experience and the way in which people navigate their way through different societies. That books I’ve written may reach one of the children I have had in mind as I’ve written gives me great joy. I write for all children and hope my stories in these children’s hands may offer young readers a sense that their lives may progress…. so that they can dream, believe and imagine a kinder more humane and connected world.”

Book Aid International works for a world where no one is without the books that will enrich, improve and change their lives. The charity knows that books are at their most precious for those facing war and displacement.

Last year through the generosity of players of People’s Postcode Lottery, it made brand new, publisher donated books available to over 500,000 refugees in 16 refugee camps around the world. The Islington Centre for Refuges and Migrants has also been supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, who have helped fund the centre’s English as a Second Language and ICT courses.

Book Aid International warmly thanks Koffi and Cisco for their time, the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants for their inspiring work and Orion Children’s Books, Otter Barry Books and Barrington Stoke for generously donating Sita’s books.


For photos or to find out more please email emma.taylor@bookaid.org or call 020 7326 5800.

About Book Aid International

Book Aid International is the UK’s leading international book donation and library development charity. Every year, the charity sends around one million brand new books to people around the world who would otherwise have very few opportunities to access books and read.

The books are read by people in all walks of life in thousands of libraries, schools, universities, hospitals and refugee camps. All of the books the charity sends are donated by UK publishers.

Book Aid International works with an extensive network of libraries, schools, hospitals, NGOs and other partners to ensure that the books it sends reach as many people as possible. The charity estimates that the books it provides reach 28 million people every year. In 2018, Book Aid International sent books to 16 refugee camps. www.bookaid.org

About the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants

The Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants works to create a strong, positive, community for people who have been displaced from their countries of origin due to persecution, war, and poverty. The charity works to create a sense of belonging and comfort for those who have left their homes, providing practical tools to help displaced people to rebuild their lives and linking asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants with local people to build a stronger community for everyone.

The Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants currently supports around 180 asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants each year. It’s clients are among the most disadvantaged, isolated and vulnerable people in London. Having fled persecution, human rights abuses, they are at risk of destitution, detention, and removal to the situation they fled.

About Sita Brahmachari

Sita Brahmachari won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize with her debut Artichoke Hearts and is one of the most interesting and important voices in children’s books today. Her latest novel, Tender Earth, is the UK IBBY Honour 2018 Nominee. She was the 2015 Booktrust’s Writer in Residence and is the current Writer in Residence at Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants. Sita is also an Amnesty International ambassador. She lives in London with her family.

About Onjali Q. Raúf

Onjali Q. Raúf is the founder of Making Herstory, an organisation mobilising men, women and children from all walks of life to tackle the abuse and trafficking of women and girls in the UK and beyond. In her spare time she delivers emergency aid convoys for refugee families surviving in Calais and Dunkirk, and supports interfaith projects. She specialised in Women’s Studies at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth and Oxford University. The Boy at the Back of the Class is her first novel. It is the winner of the Blue Peter Book Award 2019 and the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2019.

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