Shamira Buhura is a teacher and has been the school principal at Green Hills Nursery School for seven years. The wife and mother of four is also an advocate for Kinyarwanda, and uses various platforms to encourage young people, especially children, to speak their native language. Women Today’s Sharon Kantengwa caught up with her for insights on the inspiration behind her advocacy for the mother tongue.
Where did you derive the passion to advocate for Kinyarwanda?
From my personal experience. I was born in Uganda and my grandparents fled in 1959. My grandparents were the only ones I had ever heard speak Kinyarwanda and no one else. So I grew up speaking several Ugandan languages but not my own native language. I came to Rwanda in 1999 and could not construct a sentence in Kinyarwanda. That was not only embarrassing for me, but also depressing. I had regret and wished that my family had continued to use their mother tongue even in Uganda. Off course I do understand that different factors caused that. For example, the boarding school I went to, if our fellow students learnt that you were Rwandan, they would call you names. I have regrets for not being fluent in my mother tongue but at the same time, I know it is a waste of time to look back. I instead need to focus on the future. So now that we are in our country, I believe that people should speak their own mother tongue with pride and not feel embarrassed at all because they can’t speak any other foreign language.
What is your overall objective?
Start early. It will be shameful if the future generation of our country cannot speak their native language and instead take pride in speaking like an American or French native. When I first became principal of the nursery school where I work, Kinyarwanda was not one of the subjects. Lessons began in primary one upwards. My first objective, with the help of the administration, was to introduce Kinyarwanda lessons from our youngest class, which was two year olds. Today, we use Kinyarwanda with babies in our daycare programme who are as young as nine months. You’ll find a big area dedicated to Rwandan studies, stories, culture, drumming, dances, and etcetera. If we want to see change, we need to understand that it begins with us, no matter how small.
Is this something you instill in the children that you teach?
Yes, you’ll find that our children take pride in learning all about their culture. The interesting part is, even the non-Rwandan students we have in our school love learning about the Rwandan culture. It is amazing.
What do you find odd about people who can’t speak their native language well?
Circumstances may lead you to different outcomes, but what I find disturbing is young children being more encouraged to speak English or French but with little encouragement to speak their mother tongue. Some go to the extent of claiming if children speak more Kinyarwanda, then they may be coming from the village (kiturage). That is alarming because the little child listening to such assumptions will feel inferior and that may affect their self-esteem. I have friends and family who are not Rwandans, but sometimes get frustrated when they meet people who do not speak either English or French. My question to them always is, why do you expect them to speak your language and you can’t speak Kinyarwanda? It always ends as a fair game.
Can you say your advocacy has been a success in any way?
Yes, we are not there yet but we are taking the right direction. This is not something that we will feel we have achieved at a certain point in time; it has to be ongoing and continuous. There is no finish line, we need to continue the trend and pass it on.
What challenges have you encountered so far?
I wouldn’t put it as challenges but I think it is just not knowing what defines oneself. Being proud of who you are, but of course we know that not everyone has high self-esteem and that’s okay. Such people just need encouragement. Also, learning a language involves being totally immersed in it by listening to it, speaking, reading, writing, all that. I think the biggest challenge is finding the appropriate media for all ages. We should have children’s books, music, TV shows, among others, to catch the interest of young children. Although I think it is beginning but we are not yet there.
Anything you would like to add?
Rwandans need to be proud of who we are because that is what defines us and mostly, instill that belief in the future generation. Those are the minds that we can shape now and it will have a huge impact in the future.