Twenty-year-old Sandrine Bwiza is a journalism and mass communication student at the Mt. Kenya University in Kigali.
To raise some money for her scholastic needs, and to gain some work experience before she graduates, she recently sought a job at Imagine We Rwanda, a non-governmental organisation that supports and encourages reading and writing among young people.
At Imagine We Rwanda, she works as a logistics officer. Most importantly though, Bwiza is trying her hand at writing a book, with help from the organisation.
How it started
Initially, Bwiza did not set out to write a book. Rather, she just had this profound experience from her childhood that she always told and retold to workmates and visitors at Imagine We Rwanda.
“Imagine We Rwanda is an organisation that promotes reading and writing, and this book comes from a bit of her personal experience,” explains Dominique Uwase Alonga, the founder and managing director of Imagine We Rwanda.
“It is a story that happened to her, and the more she told it to us, and to people, it became one of the biggest ice-breakers in office. When visitors would come, we would chat and then the story would come up and the mood would be lighter.”
She adds that “the more we saw that reaction as a team, the more we thought of having her work on the story as a book.”
Having never had experience writing before, there was need for a ghost writer, and here, her boss, Alonga, gladly stepped in. A graduate of the Jain University in India with a Bachelor’s Degree in Media Studies, Alonga has done ghost writing before, the reason she took up the challenge again.
When I visited the Imagine We Rwanda offices and library in Kacyiru on Thursday morning, I found Bwiza locked away in one of the study rooms, hard at work on her computer.
Seated beside her, and equally busy with his own tasks is a young visual artist called Shaquille Mugisha. On closer observation, I notice that he is working on a pile of sketches on numerous pieces of art paper.
“This is my first book and I’m very excited to be writing it. All I can say is that the book is fiction and adventure,” explains Bwiza, who then walks over to Mugisha’s workstation.
Soon, they are analysing the quality of the work. I later learn that Bwiza is working on sketches to be used in illustrating the book.
The young painter had been living in Bujumbura with his mother until May this year, when the political situation there forced him to cross to Rwanda in search of peace and greener pastures.
“We thought that if the story is illustrated and shows the beauty of Rwanda, the audience that we are trying to reach, which is international and East African would be better-served, so the whole book will be illustrated with paintings from a real painter,” explained Alonga, adding that this particular book would act as a pilot project:
“This is for us to know whether the publishing industry in Rwanda is something we can jump into because since the author is on the team there is a lot less risk. If it goes really well we’ll know that we can actually get different authors from across the country to work with.”
If all goes according to plan, the book will be launched officially on December 11, in Kigali.
The book will be also sold in bookstores in Australia, in the US, in East Africa, and Rwanda.
“As an organisation, we have made a lot of contact in Australia and Sweden and the US, and those are the people who’ve been really working closely with us, so this is more like a token of appreciation to them,” Bwiza explained.
In Rwanda, it will on sale in bookstores like Ikirezi and Caritas, while there will also be online versions for your computer, android or iPhone.
The idea for the book was further necessitated by the need to break the cycle of economic dependency that Imagine We Rwanda currently finds itself in as an NGO.
As Alonga aptly put it; “This is a trial to see if we can really have something to sustain the NGO instead of always looking for money in fund-raising events. We decided to have something that can actually help impact society, but also get in some small money to help the NGO.”
Apart from the thousands of titles available at the Imagine We Rwanda community library in Kacyriu, the organisation also goes out to schools and encourages or facilitates reading and writing sessions among school-goers.
Alonga has been working with the Presentation Academy in the US where she attended high school to get books over to Rwanda. The academy organises annual book giveaways where books are donated and shipped to Rwanda.
Recently, the organisation was able to publish its own book with eight original short stories, all written by Rwandan school children.