Jordanian Scientist wins UNHCR Nansen Middle East and North Africa Award

Dr Rana Dajani, a Jordanian scientist and founder of local organization ‘We Love Reading’ has been named as this year’s UNHCR Nansen Award Winner for the Middle East and North Africa as a result of her efforts in encouraging both refugee and Jordanian children to read for pleasure.

Started in Jordan in 2006, Dr Rana began We Love Reading with the goal of establishing a library in every neighborhood in Jordan, starting with her own in the capital Amman. After her storytelling sessions at the local mosque proved successful in encouraging parents to read to their children, a grassroots movement emerged and We Love Reading has since grown into a global organization operating in 56 countries around the world.

In Jordan, under the leadership of Dr Rana, the organization has trained over 4,000 refugees and Jordanians to become ‘Reading Ambassadors’, individuals in the community who are dedicated to inspire children with an enthusiasm for reading. Working across the Kingdom, as well as in refugee camps, it is this core work and Dr Rana’s continued passion for supporting children of all nationalities which has led to her being awarded with this year’s Nansen Award for the Middle East and North Africa.

We Love Reading ambassador Latifa Al-Laham, 55, reads to young Syrian refugees, Rama Al-Lemoni, 8, and Laith Qasim, 7.

“Regardless of where you come from or what language you speak, learning to read and enjoy the magic of books is an essential part of childhood. But Dr Rana and We Love Reading have gone far beyond this in also creating hope for generations of refugee and Jordanian children. For this reason, we are proud to award her with the UNHCR’s 2020 MENA Nansen Award,” commented Carolyn Ennis, UNHCR Deputy Representative to Jordan.

UNHCR’s Nansen Award is an annual accolade that celebrates those who have gone to extraordinary lengths to support refugees and asylum seekers, stateless persons, and the internally displaced. These are the everyday heroes going to extraordinary lengths to help forcibly displaced people in great need. It is named in honor of Norwegian explorer and humanitarian Fridtjof Nansen, the first High Commissioner for Refugees appointed by the League of Nations in 1921.

Struck by how few Jordanian children read purely for pleasure, molecular biologist Rana Dajani identified a local solution that has gone global, and resulted in her winning the Nansen Regional Award for the Middle East and North Africa, 2020.

Supported by the Embassies of Norway and Switzerland in Jordan, UNHCR is honored to celebrate the achievements and inspirational work of Dr Rana Dajani. It is worth noting that the last two MENA Nansen regional winners, local volunteer Abeer Khreisha in 2019 and the NGO Reclaim Childhood in 2018, were also coming from Jordan, recognizing the extraordinary response put in place to the refugee presence in the Kingdom.

“I would like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to Dr Rana Dajani and We Love Reading for being awarded the Nansen Award 2020 for the Middle East and North Africa. Dr Dajani has demonstrated how small steps can make a real difference in each person’s life and in the community. Reading is a fantastic tool to encourage critical thinking, spread joy and stimulate creativity and entrepreneurship among Jordanian and refugee children,” commented Tone Allers, the Norwegian Ambassador in Jordan.

“I congratulate Rana Dajani on winning this year’s Nansen Prize in the MENA region and thank her for her tireless efforts to bring the beauty of reading to children in Jordan,” said Lukas Gasser, the Swiss Ambassador to Jordan.