Sondra Myers is the author of the handbook The New Rwanda: Prosperity and the Public Good and a senior member of international, local, and cultural projects at the University of Scranton. In 1987 to1993 she was the Cultural Advisor to the Governor of Pennsylvania.
In an interview with The New Times, the eloquent Myers speaks of her seventh visit to the ‘Land of a thousand hills’ and why she loves working in Rwanda.
“I love working in Rwanda because people are open to ideas and are very responsive. They give you that feeling that you can make a change in their lives however small it maybe,” Myers said.
She is currently in Rwanda for the seventh time since 2008 and is considering writing a second handbook but that incorporates more voices that are Rwandan.
“I want the handbook to feature entertaining and successful organisations and institutions based here. It will focus on the challenges and visions for the future. I’m just investigating and having a lot of meetings with several people to get ideas for the new handbook,” Myers disclosed.
She is also here to distribute the first handbook amongst the youth. The first handbook was about how essential it is to have engaged citizens in a democratic society.
In line with her work with the youth, Myers seconded the ongoing campaign of involving the youth in volunteering activities.
“It’s more than volunteering; it’s really important to understand that a democratic society needs its citizens. Not only should they volunteer, but also, they need to understand that this society is there to obey the laws, change them and be advocates for change in the society. I think that we need more exposure on why citizens are important in democracy and get the culture embedded and that is why I wrote the first handbook,” The New Rwanda author expressed.
She added that having the will to be citizens and developing their skills are all important to a democratic society.
The New Rwanda is written in two languages. It was first written in English and later translated to Kinyarwanda. The books have been distributed locally and in Rwandan embassies around the world.
“Most people who have acquired the book have found it useful. I’m working on getting it used in more institutions. Each member of the Rwandan Parliament acquired a copy both in English and Kinyarwanda. There have been informal discussions about the book too,” Myers said.
Myers said she was inspired by a friend to write The New Rwanda.
“I have a good friend who also happens to be a good friend of Rwanda called Michael Fairbanks. I told him what I was doing for civil development; the handbooks I had published about democracy and he told me to write a handbook for Africa particularly for Rwanda seeing as it’s going to be the flagship of Africa,” she said.
Myers then organised a small group of people across various professions including the Ministry of Education, since its theme was the role of higher education in strengthening democracy and civil society.
“The main recommendation for this round table discussion was to create more public discussions in Rwanda and since I was accustomed to writing handbooks since 1996, I decided that I would specifically create a handbook for Rwanda. Six months later, it was complete,” Meyer said.
There are several handbooks with her touch. For example, she edited Democracy is a Discussion: Civic Engagement in Old and New Democracies, published by Connecticut College in 1996; she also co-edited The Pluralist Paradigm: Democracy and Religion in the 21st Century, published in 2006 and many others.
She attributes her love for writing and editing handbooks on democracy to her experience in culture and humanities.
“For a very long time I have been involved in culture and humanities and I have learned a lot from my experiences. I know how hard it is to be a citizen yet you have no opportunity to express your views – being obedient and keeping quiet. Therefore after going through those things I decided to do something in line with citizens and society and the aspect of democracy,” Myers said.
As a child, her dream was to become a scholar or an artist and she is grateful that she is partly living that dream.
“I’m happy that I have become a great advocate for art. I was the founding president at Citizens for the Arts of Pennsylvania from 1980 to 1985. I work with scholars most of the time, therefore in a way I’m living my dream,” she excitedly acknowledged.
Her advice to people who want to achieve their dreams, is to always remember that they are citizens who should take responsibilities for the good of their country.
“The most precious right an individual could have is the right to be responsible for the good of the country. I don’t expect everyone to be in government but if they want to sustain and improve democracy, they really need to take an active role and care about the nation’s well being,” she concluded.