Reading culture: Inside Gasave’s public park library

Children search for books to read in their library at Gasave Public Park Library. Photos by Faustin Niyigena.

One of the basic reasons why reading is important is because it helps you grow mentally, emotionally and psychologically. Every book gives you an opportunity to learn new things and explore new ideas. Reading books increases your knowledge and makes you smarter. This is according to GladReaders, a website dedicated to book lovers and enthusiastic readers. It is also a platform where you can explore the amazing world of books and audiobooks.

Driven by the desire to read and inspire others to do the same, Elizabeth Mujawamariya Johnson and Marie-Louise Kaligirwa established ‘Grace Rwanda’, a volunteer-run charity based in Langley, British Columbia, Canada. 

Gasave Public Park Library is the first of its kind in the country. The founder plans to establish many more libraries.

Grace Rwanda was involved in a number of projects in schools, including a pilot programme called Kamwa Initiative in 2011, where an elementary school is given two cows to produce milk to boost the health of the children.  

In 2014, a sister organisation was created, hence, the birth of Ineza Foundation, a philanthropic social enterprise in Rwanda through which Grace Rwanda’s projects are implemented.

And under Ineza Foundation, a park library was launched — Gasave Public Park Library — the first of its kind in the country. The aim was to give many people, mostly the youth, access to as many reading resources as possible.

Elizabeth Mujawamariya Jonhson, co-founder of Grace Rwanda Society in Canada and Ineza Foundation in Rwanda, talks to children at the library.

The library held its grand opening last month in celebration of International Literacy month, and it holds approximately 1500 assorted books for now.  Once completed, the library can hold up to 5000 books — 4500 in English and other languages and another 500 in the local language of Kinyarwanda.

Entering the public garden where the library is situated, you are welcomed by a delightful aeration of the environment. The library, which was funded by Book Aid International, can accommodate 100 readers at a time. As they are still in the beginning phase, every day, they receive 10 to 20 readers — students or adults. 

Primary students set to sit for the national exams use the library. 

It was built in a public park, next to a football field. This was set up so that students out for extracurricular activities, like games, can pick up reading as a hobby too. 

“We are not done. We are going to start organising games and plays of different kinds to raise the standards of this library to another level,” says Alexis Baguma, the head of Gasave village. 

This work will not be in vain, Baguma says, as long-term goals will see more people embracing the reading culture. 

Also, as society moves forward, we will incorporate other programmes, he adds. 

Accessibility 

Ineza Foundation started by signing a pact with the Ministry of Youth to put libraries in each district in what is called ‘Yego Centres’. Later on, they signed another agreement with the Anglican Church, Gahini parish to create six libraries.

Boys put the African continent together in a puzzle at the first park library.

They also plan to have structures called ‘The 5 Reading Corners’, which are: Rubavu, Nyamasheke, Gasabo, Kimisagara, and Gahini. 

This structures will have different games, puzzles, and et cetera, to attract more children to visit the libraries and read.

As of 2013, they have completed the initiation of 28 libraries. Some are newly built, and some are old buildings re-set to hold library material, including books, furniture and more. 

A section of the library that opened its doors last month.

“We want to create a spirit of reading among children. We are touring the nation with the help of the Ministry of Youth so that we build a future where reading is a hobby. We do all this with the main goal of having a library in each umudugudu,” says Johnson. 

Johnson explains that Gasave Public Park Library is the first park library, not the first community library in Rwanda. It is specifically one, in the middle of a bigger project, with literacy as the main interest. 

A 2018 survey by the United State Agency International Developments (USAID) and Save the Children-Rwanda, showed that most children do not have access to storybooks outside the school premises.

Only five per cent of children have access to Kinyarwanda storybooks at home, the survey revealed, adding that only six per cent have access to a library, or somewhere in their community where they can read or borrow books.

It is said that one of the biggest issues behind a poor reading culture is the lack of reading resources.

As they boost reading culture, they encourage children to also read Kinyarwanda content and preserve Rwandan culture. 

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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