ReBOOKS: saving refugee literacy in Australia

“All I had was a candle and a desk to study.”

Image by The Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation.

Image by The Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation.

My father sipped his tea as the steam was still rising and fogging his glasses. His eyes were deep in the memories of his childhood in Iraq. I ached inside because I knew they were memories of both hardship and triumph. He would always tell stories of how well he dressed for school despite the economic difficulties his family faced. He made sure his shirt was crisp, his shoes were polished, and his hair tidy. But, most importantly, he worked to ensure that he and his classmates had free access to textbooks, which they could not otherwise afford.

Upon making this demand one day to one of his teachers, my father was questioned, “If you don’t have money, then how is it that you have nice clothes?” My father raised his chin and stared back at the teacher with an unwavering glare. He responded, “Do you not dress appropriately for work to show respect for your profession?” My father always laughs when he tells me this story, saying, “Mariam, you don’t need money to respect the value of your education.” I can still feel his pride in those moments.

Barely a teen, and he managed to provide free textbooks to students in need.

My father knew we were lucky to have left a country that was on the verge of collapse without disrupting our education. My first years in an English school were no doubt difficult, but the English as a Second Language (ESL) programs and tutors made my life easier. They helped me interact and engage with my new community. My father wore a suit to my 6th grade graduation ceremony. He was the first one to arrive and he behaved as if it were my college graduation. I remember feeling bewildered.

I didn’t understand his elation.

Image by The Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation.

Image by The Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation.

But, let’s face it; school attendance is mandatory in most Western countries. Officials will knock on your parents’ door and question them if you do not consistently attend school. This system, unfortunately, is not established everywhere around the world because of economic and political hardships.

In fact, one out of four refugees who come to Australia have little to no schooling. It is a sad reality that, as per the UNHCR, “schools are one of the first casualties of war”. People living in war-torn countries do not have the opportunity to study even if they craved to do so. They have the capability to learn and succeed but, instead of studying in a fully-equipped classroom, they depend on the limited resources available in refugee camps. Instead of attending plays, after school programs and excursions, they are saying goodbye to their families. These are just a few scenarios that young refugee students would have faced before arriving to Australia.

I will not even discuss the tragedies that they have had to endure because this article is not about their past, but about what we can do for their future.

I want to talk to you about ReBOOKS: a social enterprise created by me and my friends. It began as a simple discussion at a cafe about our favourite books. We all had the same thought: everyone should have the opportunity to fall in love with a great book. Books help us understand the world around us even if it is completely foreign. They teach us to understand one another, learn about any topic that strikes our fancy, and help us succeed. Books help us learn how to articulate our feelings, build relationships, and they shape our future.

Image by The Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation.

Image by The Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation.

Imagine if you were a refugee who lost everything and had to start all over. A literacy program can help you rewrite yourself.

ReBOOKS will be a unique online book store whereby 100% of profits from selling e-books go toward funding existing – but underfunded – refugee literacy programs. Instead of purchasing an e-book from any company, we want you to buy that same e-book, but do more good. You will contribute to a social cause with just one click.

However, we need your help to start up this social enterprise. We are holding a crowd-funding campaign with Start Some Good. Please help us raise $20,000 at so that we can build an e-commerce platform that will enable us to provide you with access to a fantastic range of e-books. Any amount will help us decrease our startup costs, and bring us that much closer to funding the refugee literacy programs at The Australian Literacy & Numeracy Foundation (ALNF) and Asylum Seekers Resource Centre (ASRC) .

The refugee community, in particular, is at risk of losing access to critical literacy programs run by refugee support groups because of budget cuts. Plus, the teachers who run these programs are faced with an overwhelming task of assisting students from various language backgrounds and skills with limited resources. We believe that ReBOOKS can become a self-sustainable business model that will help ameliorate these issues.

If you believe in our mission and want to learn more, then please support us at . Our campaign ends on July 20, 2015. I also invite you to like our Facebook page at #/rebooksau and follow us on Twitter at

By Mariam Ali

Mariam Ali is the Marketing Director and a co-founder of ReBOOKS. She formerly worked for Australian high fashion brand, Helen Kaminski. In her spare time, she blogs at

Categories: Art, Events, Literature, Politics

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