“Heather, today you make history in Rwanda.” – Divine
For the last week, when I haven’t been teaching, I’ve actually been going insane.
Not for the normal reasons (my reignited war with mice, for example, or perhaps dealing with children staring at me through my windows on a daily basis) but actually because I had been making final preparations to open the Ruramira Community Library.
I imagine it was maybe somehow simiilar to what planning other big events feels like–be it a wedding, an important ceremony, or some kind of celebration.
People are asking you a billion different questions every second.
You have to make small and big decisions on the spot.
And, you are in a constant state of stress while planning.
This project is over a year in the making. USAID and EDC (Education Development Center) presented this idea to Peace Corps at my group’s in-service training conference back in April 2012. I expressed interest (my community had no viable reading materials) and by May, I found myself at planning meetings in Kigali at EDC headquarters. The plan was to bring libaries to a variety of rural communities across Rwanda. These would be some of the very first libraries in the entire country, and their implementation was a part of a larger initiative called L3 (Language, Literacy, and Learning). This initiative is a 5-year program completely funded by USAID and technically supported by EDC. The statistic below is what tipped me over to have 100% buy-in with this project. Perhaps it would be difficult to do, perhaps it would even fail, but why not try? It’s books, y’all!
In Rwanda its been proven that those with a higher level of education earn more money throughout their life.
Level of education Average earning
Primary school 70% higher than individuals with no education
Lower secondary 240% higher
Upper secondary 440% higher
University 1600% higher
By no means was I setting out on a mission to eradicate poverty completely in my community with a set of books; however, I did see the obvious correlation between literacy, education, and an increased level of economic opportunity. Maybe my Backstreet Boys lessons (as fantastic and fun as they are) weren’t enough to encourage English use in the lives of my students, but my oh my, the possibilities with a library seemed endless. And even better, it wouldn’t be just for them. It would be for everybody. Everybody could read a book. Students, old people, young people, farmers, leaders, anybody. An equal-opportunity, opportunity.
For the first few months, along with a handful of other Peace Corps Volunteers, we mapped out how to start one of these things in our respective communities: how do we inform and mobilize our communities? How do we make a library commitee? How can we ensure sustainability? How do we operate and organize the books?
By that summer I was working with our local leaders to find a place and a plan for our library. Eventually, it is hoped to make this library mobile, but for now, our focus has been establishing one library center. It’s located on our school grounds (thank you, headmaster) with a small office where the books are shelved and an adjacent room for reading.
The books were delivered in October 2012 and inventoried in November. Early 2013 was spent working to acquire shelves and once they arrived, I spent hours creating a system to process the collection (not only making an inventory but leveling the books as well). We have 1,186 books. Mostly they are in English, but we also do have a Kinyarwanda set. It took some creative brainstorming, but after some time I was able to create as sound of a system as I could think of: the books are divided by language and then by level. Kinyarwanda has 6 levels; English has 9. Additionally, we have a chapter book section and a life skills section. All are organized alphabetically and every book has a special color and number code to help track the books upon check-out. I have years of watching my mother organize things to thank; it was definitely her genes kicking in.
Each person who comes to the library is registered with a library card. They can submit this card upon check out, and the librarian records the book code that they take and they keep the card until their book is returned. We’ll see how it actually goes, right? It’s obviously still going to be in the experimental phase in that we are going to see what works and what doesn’t. It took the help of 3 other volunteers, over 20 hours of work, and lots of back pain to code all of the books. To all the librarians out there: RESPECT.
So yesterday was our big day; it was the launch! Media outlets and high government officials were due to come out for our celebration, but the rain (all 7 straight hours of it) kept them away. No matter, our news story was released to the press and many of my students later heard it on one of the major radio stations in the East, called Radio Izuba (‘Izuba’ meaning ‘Sun’). We had many speeches during our program (I chose to give mine in Kinyarwanda actually, and Divine later told me that I only made three mistakes, making my marks, in her opinion, an 8.5 out of 10. Let’s be real though, the girl is a bit biased!) and we had dancing, and of course, reading. Two old men from my village read a book in Kinyarwanda and our school president read a book in English. I purchased fantas (as per cultural norm) for the commitee after the party. As we locked the library up and packed our things, I sighed with major relief. We did it! The hard part, perhaps, is over. Now, it’s just about the reading. Our library slogan is this (and printed in our huge sign):
DUSANGIRE UMUCO WO GUSOMA.
We share the culture of reading.
It’s time to celebrate, sit back, relax, and read a good book.