Why public libraries are the pulse of community literacy

Government is involved in various activities such as the Rwanda Reads project that attracts book publishers, non-governmental organisations and schools (students) in competitions tailored towards improving the reading culture.
Children take part in an open reading session at the library. (Lydia Atieno)
Children take part in an open reading session at the library. (Lydia Atieno)

Government is involved in various activities such as the Rwanda Reads project that attracts book publishers, non-governmental organisations and schools (students) in competitions tailored towards improving the reading culture. And, according to Save the Children Rwanda, there are around 191 community libraries in Gicumbi and Burera districts alone. 

But as American author David Morris once wrote, more than just books and banks of computers, public libraries are still places where individuals gather to explore, interact and imagine. To compound his argument, he stated that libraries are community builders, centres for diverse populations and arts, universities and champions of youth.

Primarily, people visit a library to read, but in the process, these sessions bring diverse people together which can actually foster other social interests. Rwinkwavu Community and Library Learning Centre (RCLLC) is one such arena. RCLLC is run by Ready for Reading, a non-governmental organisation that strives to advance literacy and learning through community base initiatives by fostering ICT skills, literacy and a culture of reading.

RCLLC and community literacy

The library, located in Kayonza District, Eastern Province, carries out community mobilisation through different programmes in Rwinkwavu and neighbouring sectors.

Apart from that, it also offers support in terms of reading materials and ICT teachings to schools all over the country.

The library is equipped with a wide range of children’s books, adult’s literature with both fictional and non-fictional content.

Founded in 2007 by Best Dickey, a creative writer from United States of America, RCLLC aimed at providing the most basic learning and reading materials for people of Rwanda.

Dickey felt that the library would act as a tool in fighting poverty among the community.

The centre, which started operations in 2012, serves as an educational, cultural and information hub for over 21,000 people.

It is ranked as a major resource centre and second leading community library in Rwanda for its model educative programmes after Kigali Public Library, according to its management.

Other initiatives

According to Jean Marie Habimana, the IT and school enrichment manager, Ready for Reading has a lot of educative programmes that help the entire community to embrace the reading culture.

“We have different library and learning programmes for the community, which serve people from as old as one year. We also have special rooms/corners for kids, teens and adults,” he says.

The library also has a learning centre with classes ranging from literacy, English, ICT to Kinyarwanda and music classes.

The other programmes offered by RCLLC include the youth open library (story-telling, reading lessons as well as puzzles), pre-school education, electronic reading for all, girls and women empowerment programmes and games such as basket ball.

Habimana says they mobilise the whole community to embrace the reading culture, especially the older people.

“In the Kinyarwanda class, most of those who attend are elderly people who don’t know how to read and write; so we first teach them the basics. Through this, we help them to love and embrace the reading culture, which makes it easier for them to continue with other classes,” explains Habimana.

He says the Kinyarwanda class now has 25 students who are taking a one-year-long course.

Emmanuel Ndayambaje, the director of RCLLC, says the English class has greatly improved communication among local community and international visitors.

“With the RCLLC being located in the area near the Akagera National park, there are many opportunities offered by tourists. So our community needs to take English classes to enable them communicate with other people when doing business,” says Ndayamaje.

On the other hand, the music class provides space for all community members to partake in communal music making. And it serves both adults and children.

For electronic reading for all, Protais Turatsinze, a youth programme coordinator at RCLLC, says it helps to build and strengthen the culture of reading through the E-reader programme.

“Over 30 people have enrolled to the programme.

Usually, it’s not easy to make people love reading particularly when it’s through books, especially the youth who are more into digital stuff. But through this programme which is digital, most of them will easily appreciate it and want to explore more, hence promoting the reading culture,” says Turatsinze..

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Students learn through Koha programme. (Lydia Atieno)

RCLLC employs the Koha technology in its operations. Koha is a library management system used to manage and track all available library resources, including printed and electronic books, making it easier for the learners to get what they want in a twinkle of an eye.

Challenges

Apart from its successful model, the library still faces some setbacks.

“First, it’s hard here at the village level to make people, especially parents, appreciate the importance of the reading culture. This alone makes it hard to convince people to take part in the different classes,” says Habimana.

He also notes that for this reason, some of them end up not supporting their children’s education.

Ndayambaje also cites lack of enough resources, ICT trained teachers, and limited access to adult educational opportunities as other challenges.

“Quite a number of people have shown interest in learning, but the library does not have enough resources to serve all the individuals at once,” he says.

Ndayambaje adds that there is also a huge demand from the community and other schools for their assistance, which they feel exceeds their capacity.

Future plans

“Our core areas being adult literacy, early childhood education, ICT and youth development, we will continue to look for best practices from both local international partners to develop more programmes that can advance our cause,” says Ndayamaje.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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People have their say...

Salim Rutayisire, a beneficiary from music program

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Salim Rutayisire

I had a talent in singing but I didn’t know how to play any musical instrument. I enrolled at Ready for Reading for guitar and piano classes. I can now sing and play the two musical instruments without difficulty. I am planning to release my own video soon at a low cost.

Isaiah Niyonkuru, Basketball coach

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Isaiah Niyonkuru

Since my childhood, I have dreamed of becoming a great basketball player in the country. Although I had that talent, I didn’t know where to nurture it. I then heard about Ready for Reading which I later joined. My coaches were impressed with my tactics and chose me as a junior coach for others.

Seraphine Mukantabana, a businesswoman

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Seraphine Mukantaban

As a business person in an area where a lot of tourists visit, I chose to enroll for English classes so that I could be able to communicate with them. In the past I didn’t know any single word in English, and that made me lose a lot. But since I joined the programme, I am now able to communicate with them fluently and my business has grown.

Hope Icyizere, an ICT programme graduate

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Hope Icyizere

After my secondary school education, I was still computer illiterate. I joined Ready for Reading in 2015 to take the ICT programme. After my graduation, I was lucky to secure a job in our district as a data entrant. I am so grateful to the RCCL for its educative programmes.

Compiled by Lydia Atieno

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