Digital Reading | May 30, 2024

Reading Access for Refugees: The Importance of Books for Displaced Peoples


Stories change lives. For refugee children, reading can make all the difference in times of crisis and help them find their path forward.

Mayada and her family

Being forced to leave your home is one of the hardest things people can experience. It’s a task that requires courage, strength, and hope in the face of unthinkable health, safety, emotional, and educational risks. As the Refugee Agency (UNHCR) states, days like World Refugee Day provide us with an opportunity to recognize the rights, needs, and dreams of refugees so they can not only survive but thrive.

Education and reading access is a crucial part of ensuring that refugees and displaced peoples, especially children, receive the support they deserve.

According to UNICEF, “education is a fundamental human right: every girl and boy in every country is entitled to it.”

Not only do young refugees need educational support, but it must be accessible. The UNHCR asserts that only 63% of refugee children go to primary school, only 24% of refugee adolescents have access to secondary education, and only 3% of refugees attend higher education. Should refugee children be able to find a school to attend, it’s often overcrowded and the children “may not speak the language that is taught.” This can severely impact their immediate and long-term learning.

With so much at risk for refugees, it’s critical we provide the resources they need to protect and improve their lives. That’s why we’re working to make reading accessible everywhere. BookSmart allows families and children to continue reading and learning even in the face of education disruption caused by conflict or persecution. Sourcing local content in local languages is at the heart of what we do and ensures that every child has stories they can connect with and learn from, no matter where they are.

Reading and education empower children and prepare them for the future. Books offer young refugees a way to build skills, boost their social-emotional capacity, and grow their confidence. Moreover, education increases children’s earning potential, reducing global poverty and building up communities. When refugee families read together, it can help them build bonds and process their experiences. Continued access to reading is not just about maintaining educational standards; it’s about providing a path forward.

“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”

Malala Yousafzai

For refugee children, this change begins with access to learning materials. Our projects in Jordan and Ukraine showed the importance of reading. The Tuta Tuta program provided Syrian refugees in Jordan with access to digital storybooks in Arabic to support their educational and social-emotional needs. The program reached nearly 60 thousand readers and encouraged Syrian families to bond over reading and gain confidence in new surroundings. In Ukraine and around the world, we worked to provide Ukrainian refugees with free kids’ books in their mother tongue in the face of violent conflict.

Talking About Refugees with Young Readers

Helping children understand what it means to be a refugee or a displaced person is critical to helping them learn about many of the world’s challenges and build empathy. One of the best ways to approach this topic with young readers is to share stories. Books offer a way for children to connect with the ideas of leaving home and being forced to flee their communities.

On BookSmart, we offer stories that are not only accessible to refugees but can help share their experiences. These three books can help children learn about the strength and courage of the people who are forced to leave their homes.

Art for All by Olivia Wood

Sunny and the Birds by Wendy Meddour and Nabila Adani

A Fragrant Flower in Exile by Mary al-Khuri Fadil

Art for All
Sunny and the Birds
A Fragrant Flower in Exile

At Worldreader, we’re committed to ensuring children everywhere receive the reading support they need to thrive. By providing free digital books and educational resources, we help build a foundation for a brighter future for these resilient children. Join us in celebrating their courage and the power of education to change lives. Together, we can turn the page towards a more hopeful tomorrow.

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