Last week, over 60 girls attended a five day literacy camp dubbed ‘Litcamp.’
The aim of the programme was to teach the girls how to value their own, and other people’s stories; how to become powerful readers, and also, how to use literature as a guide in their lives. Participants were drawn from Rwinkwavu in Kayonza District, Eastern Province.
The camp, which normally takes place during school holidays, includes reading programmes where girls meet on specific days to hone their literacy skills. The programme is run by ‘Ready for Reading’ in partnership with LitWorld Organisation, a non-governmental organisation also based in Kayonza District.
How it all started
The organization started in 2014 with the aim to advance literacy and learning for girls aged 10 and above, through community-based initiatives and a culture of reading.
In August last year, 100 Women Who Will Impact Rwanda(100WWW -IR), an initiative aimed at mentoring young girls in Rwanda, discussed various ways of empowering the girl child, which included education and career opportunities.
According to Emmanuel Ndayambaje, the director at ‘Ready for Reading’, apart from improving literacy, the programme also aims at helping girls choose the right careers for themselves to enable them follow their dreams.
Litclub involves two days of training weekly; selected students from different schools in the district meet at Rwinkwavu Community and Library Learning Centre (RCLLC), and work in their respective groups. Some of the girls are from underprivileged settings.
According to the founders, girls are more vulnerable, and need to be empowered to give them a chance to make a significant impact in the community.
Athanasie Vuguziga, one of Litclub’s teachers, says that through helping the girls improve their reading and writing culture, they are nurturing them to become the next generation of women leaders.
She notes that some of the girls are groomed to be mentors, and in turn they also help younger girls in their communities. They endeavor to form supporting networks that build towards a successful future for every girl.
“Apart from teaching them how to embrace the reading culture, we also give them mentorship skills, especially the senior ones; so that they can mentor the junior girls on how to become role models,” Vuguziga says.
She adds that during their teaching, they emphasise the promotion of literacy through seven pillars, namely; curiosity, kindness, confidence, friendship, courage, hope and belonging; and notes that everything that a girl would want to achieve revolves around those elements.
“Most of them come with different problems including family conflicts, neglect, poor background, among others, but we help them get through this by letting them share their story with us.
“In such a situation, talking to their parents or guardians is key, and this has really worked because since the start of the programme, most of them have started thinking positively about life. And this can be seen in how they confidently face people and share their achievements and goals. They have also improved as far as reading and writing is concerned,” Vuguziga explains.
According to Jean Marie Habimana, the representative of Litworld and the school enrichment manager at ‘Ready for Reading’, the idea of Litclub surfaced after realising that there was need to boost reading and writing capacity, civic engagement, future outlook and personal value of girls, and their priority was to help girls achieve that.
“This has brought a lot of change; for instance, before the programme, most girls lacked confidence, they didn’t know how to express themselves in public. The case is now different as they are no longer timid; they stand up and speak boldly in front of different audiences,” he says.
He explains that they believe that in giving such skills to girls, they, in turn, will be able to give back the knowledge gained to their communities, as it is said that educating a girl is educating an entire nation.
Within a period of two years, 120 students have benefited from the programme, and most of them have leadership roles in their schools.
Beneficiaries share their experience
The girls attribute their progress to the Litclub programme, which, according to them, is still changing their lives positively.
“Before joining the programme, if one had asked me what I wanted to be in the future, I would have just stared at the person,” says Yvette Mugisha, a Senior One student at GS Nkondo in Kayonza District.
She explains that right now, she knows exactly what she aspires to be and doesn’t hesitate, or shy away from, sharing this. She says she wants to be an engineer in future and will do whatever it takes to achieve that.
Seraphine Manishimwe, a P5 pupil, is more confident than ever.
“Apart from knowing how to read and write, my self-confidence has improved. At first, before joining the club six months ago, there were things I didn’t understand in class, and out of fear and not knowing how to express myself, I always kept quiet. But now it’s easier to open up and ask questions where I don’t understand,” says Manishimwe.
Challenges and future plans
According to Ndayambaje, the biggest setback, the programme is facing is that it is not able to financially support some of the most vulnerable girls who perform well in their national exams. Their families can’t afford the fees and scholastic materials, which is why they send them to cheaper schools even when they’ve been admitted to good (but more costly) schools.
He points out that their future plan is to look for a way to extend their support from just life skills to academic support, so that they can be able to support girls who excel in the national exams but their families cannot afford to send them to better schools.
How can girls be encouraged to embrace a reading and writing culture?
I can’tsee a better way to encourage young girls to read than making interesting and educative reading resources easily accessible. This, eventually, will boost their curiosity to read, and through reading they will feel the urge to put their ideas on the table, turning them into creative writers. I believe that young people are eager to learn, and when they get materials to read, it motivates their reading, and writing enthusiasm.
Flavia Uwera, student
Indeed young girls need to be encouraged to embrace the culture of reading and writing. The best way to initiate this is to give them a platform where they can interact and share experiences with passionate individuals, especially women, who are able to interest them on the benefits of reading and writing. For this to be a success, girls need to be acquainted and inspired, and it is through their interaction with such people that they will develop the curiosity to turn pages as they note down their understanding.
Fionah Munezero, administrator
Just like any other essential initiative to be accomplished; effective education and sensitisation should be in place. Girls need to be educated and sensitised on the benefits of reading and writing, and how it can impact their lives. It is through such inspiring, motivating and informative programmes that young girls will develop a great interest to start reading. Besides, learning will open their mind to see the world and opportunities around them, and how writing and reading can enable them to tap all those prospects.
Fanny Umwali, Student
I believe such noble ideas and initiatives should start early in school. Schools should take the lead in motivating their students to read by creating reading and writing clubs, and also embrace literature competitions to promote creativity. By schools making sure that the libraries are rich with enlightening reading materials, students will gain acquaintance to reading. The government should introduce reading and writing campaigns, workshops, trainings, and conferences aiming at empowering girls to embrace this.
Yvonne Nyirahabineza, teacher