Gilbert Rwabigwi is the founder of Youth Literacy Organisation (YouLI), a youth-led, non-profit organisation that aims at advancing literacy and learning.
A writer and social media enthusiast, the 26-year-old talked to Sharon Kantengwa about his passion for nurturing literacy and promoting writing amongst the youth.
What is your overall objective for YouLI?
My main focus has been to identify ways that can be used to rediscover the course of learning among the youth in the Rwandan community. My main aim on founding YouLI in 2009, entailed having conversations with the youth—conversations from which I realised how much importance is attached to reading in their learning process.
Of course, this varied according to their line of interest, but generally, there was a rising but quiet eagerness to read beyond their scholastic materials back then. It was through workshops and young writers’ club, to which an additional and complementary aspect of learning had to emerge; writing.
I have had the privilege to work with young aspiring writers and storytellers with remarkable talent to accomplish a number of literary publication projects, mainly including “Telling Our Own Stories: A Collection of Poems by Rwandan Youth 20 Years After the Genocide, released in 2014, and two issues of The Pen Review; a bi-annual literary journal publishing original short fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction and short reviews.
What is your take on the reading culture in this country?
In all truthfulness, I think our society is now associated with one of the highest reading cultures in our region. This ranges from the material related to school work to the overly consumed online content. The only struggle is that there is no balance between reading and writing. Verbal conversations among the youth will always be stirred by the latest articles but a significantly lower form of response in a clearly structured written manner.
Undoubtedly, there is hope that the further our reading and lifelong learning culture grows, the more young people will invest their time and talent in writing equally.
You have been working with young people in campaigns that promote reading and writing culture. What has been the impact of your work over the years?
The workshops and meetings of the young writers have been a platform for aspiring young authors and storytellers to come together and share ideas. They get the chance to have fruitful conversations about their learning experiences and how they can be enhanced by dedicating most of their time to reading, thinking and writing, in the most effective manner.
It is also a chance to boost each other’s confidence, through encouragement to share their past work for comments and advice to be embedded in their present work and improve their future projects.
But the biggest impact would be that these young writers have come to be convinced of how much potential they possess, and there is no better time to unleash it that isn’t now.
This in turn rids them of the fearfulness and a sort of shyness that makes most writers hesitate about putting their stories out in the open, stories in which they truly identify as young Rwandans. And, this is what we need and it is what we want; stories from Rwanda.
Where do you derive the passion to do what you do?
From my fellow Rwandans, I have to say. People always, truly, inspire me.
What do you intend to achieve for YouLI in the next couple of years?
YouLI intends to involve as many young Rwandans in acquiring skills that are vital to become effective communicators and lifelong learners. This is linked to the concepts of critical thinking and learning how to be creative and practical problem solvers. Working with schools to create literary outlets, holding more workshops and literacy campaigns is also another item on the list.
Most important, introducing a more disciplined art of sharing that is publishing to young aspiring writers and storytellers—this is our ultimate vision.
What is your message to the youth?
My message to the youth would be that literacy skills are the basics of learning as a lifelong process. They should be more aware of the fact that they naturally possess an inexhaustible amount of stories and experiences that need to be told and the ability to manufacture characters and scenarios from their creative minds, all through writing which will earn a well-deserved responsiveness and interaction.
This will set an exciting and delightful learning environment for our communities and beyond, if placed in the right kind of exposure. It is up to us to establish a Rwandan way of learning and setting it in motion.