One day in a Rwandan village, a girl called Mahoro became a close friend with a boy called Ntwali without knowing that their parents had an issue between them.
It is a fictional story told by Patrick Gihana, a Rwandan artiste and author in his new illustrative book, “Humura Mwana”, written specifically for children.
Mahoro, who fell in love with Ntwali whom they studied together in primary school, didn’t understand why their parents opposed this relationship which was not harmful at all.
Gihana’s book is written in simple language, using mostly cartoons than words. He narrates to children Rwandan history since the arrival of the colonialists until the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
“Ntwali’s father had killed the family of Mahoro’s parents, but the children were not aware of that. And when they got to know about it, they preferred to overcome all the problems and cultivated love and reconciliation in their families instead,” Gihana said.
It is a story which includes mainly children, parents, teachers and neighbours, he said.
It is the first book of four editions in which the story will end with the heroism of the Rwanda Patriotic Front and the role of the Rwandan youth in stopping the Genocide, Gihana explained.
“I thought I should begin with children because they are going to become Rwandan leaders of tomorrow. In the past, the youth were used to sow divisionism and they played a big role in the Genocide,” he said.
When he started to write the story of reconciliation in 2006, he put it aside because he thought he should begin with why people need reconciliation, he said.
“The idea was to start with the history which brought genocide, genocide itself, Gacaca courts then comes reconciliation. Rwandans need to know their history, especially children. They often ask questions and don’t get proper responses from their parents who most of the times got touched by the same bad history,” he said.
Gihana said he chose to use cartoons to tell his story because children don’t like to read long texts.
“Cartoons attract children and when they read, they get the message which will be useful to them for a long time. Children need this history of the Genocide so that they are at the forefront of preventing it from happening again,” he said.
Telling difficult topics to fragile people like children requires a lot of care and expertise.
“We used very simple Kinyarwanda so that children ranging between 8 and 10 are capable of reading it and understanding without need for external support,” he said.
The book has been approved by the National Commission to fight against Genocide (CNLG), he said.
For now Gihana is seeking a partnership with Rwanda Education Board in order to distribute the copies of the book to schools across the country so that even children from disadvantaged families have access to it, he said.
“If I put copies in private libraries for sale, at least one copy would cost Rfw30,000, which is very expensive. Writing books in Rwanda is still very difficult and expensive as we don’t have publishing houses which normally deal with printing and selling issues.
Gihana urges other Rwandan authors, especially those who write on Rwandan history, to not give up despite the challenges they meet.
“I started writing more than 12 years ago. I lacked the means to finish my book but I didn’t give up. I’ve knocked on every door requesting for support but finally I got it from the Ministry of Sports and Culture (MINISPOC) which gave me funds to print 50 copies, and various companies. I had the support of my family and two friends. Now I’m happy that after all these years my product is out,” he said.
The other three volumes will be out in six months, he said.