The past year has seen tremendous progress in Ready for Reading’s mission and more specifically our development of a prototype for a community library and learning center to be constructed in Rwinkwavu in the Kayonza District of the Eastern Province. There are several key components that have contributed to our success. Rwinkwavu serves a large catchment area and is the site of the first Partners In Health District Hospital in the country. The location of the project along with partnerships have been essential in creating a synergy that has enabled RfR to get to the point where we are now poised to begin the construction of the Rwinkwavu Community Library and Learning Center (RCLLC).
At the end of last summer (2008) I had the good fortune to make a connection with Allen Moore, a Boston area architect with 40 years of experience designing and overseeing the development and building of museum, library and educational spaces. Our meeting came about quite serendipitously as the result of a friend’s July visit to the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, MA which Allen was the lead architect on. She thought the village-like concept of the center might be applicable to the library we were planning to build in Rwinkwavu. Allen agreed to meet and see what the project entailed. At the end of our 45 minute presentation he graciously offered his services pro bono, telling us that 2 hours before our inquiry call he had decided to “retire” and only accept projects that were useful. Allen has now become one of the cornerstones in the Rwinkwavu Community Library and Learning Center project.
In the last ten months, through countless hours of conversations, correspondence and a trip to Rwanda, Allen has taken this idea of a library and not only translated it into bricks and mortar but more importantly challenged the concept of what role a 21st century library in Africa should play. We believe the RCLLC should be the dynamic heart of the community reflecting and supporting the educational, informational and cultural/social needs of the population it serves. The RCLLC will provide a venue for a whole variety of programming with language and IT literacy training, after school tutoring, story hours, career planning, healthcare, gender issues, entrepreneurship and agriculture. We continue to seek organizations that specialize in specific areas to work with the librarians/staff in developing programming. The RCLLC will also serve as a cultural gathering spot with an adjoining amphitheater with a stage /podium for community performing arts, meetings and celebrations. The amphitheater will also provide a space for viewing projected audio-visual programs for those who are not literate, the first stepping-stone towards literacy. These offerings and opportunities will greatly expand the breadth of ideas and possibilities for the folks in Rwinkwavu and the surrounding area.
By March 2009, we had put together well thought out schematic designs and programs for the RCLLC. Allen and I then traveled to Rwanda and presented our prospectus to the appropriate national and local officials, PIH in Rwinkwavu and other organizations/potential partners. The Minister of Sports and Culture, the Minister of Education and the National Curriculum Director on the federal level and the Mayor of Kayonza District, Executive Secretary of Rwinkwavu Sector, the Director of Rwinkwavu Hospital and local community leaders were all very supportive of the proposed project and were anxious for us to get started.
As for construction, Allen has begun to collaborate with a Rwandan architect who will manage the project. Presently construction documents and specifications are being developed in order to obtain the required environmental and building permits so that building can be started as soon as the funding goals are achieved. In November, Allen and I will return to Rwanda to review updated construction costs and qualified contractors. We will not begin construction until we have raised the whole amount required to build the RCLLC. We anticipate about 9 – 12 months will be required to complete construction of the building.
Concerning programming, we have identified, through our conversations with government, that the pillars of the RCLLC at present must be language and IT literacy. These are our first priorities and we will also be researching ways to implement language and computer learning while providing information on issues relevant and important to the community. Providing information pertinent to people’s lives is a strong motivator in acquiring these skills that will help create socio-economic opportunity. We will be researching curriculum and looking to partner with other organizations who excel in this area.
Katie Uher, RfR Program Director, has recently traveled 30 hours by bus with our Ugandan Community Library colleagues to go to the Pan-African Literacy Conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. It’s the largest gathering of educators, librarians, literacy experts, publishers and writers in Africa with attendees from around the world. Katie traveled to the conference with our Ugandan colleagues from UgCLA (Uganda Community Library Association). UgCLA holds two workshops each year for community librarians from Uganda and now East Africa to come together and share and learn from one another. This growing group of libraries is affiliated with Friends of African Village Libraries ( www.favl.org ) working to form a professional network joining individual libraries and Library Associations in East Africa. RfR is working with FAVL Executive Director, Kate Parry to develop and coordinate its work on the ground.
She is also researching book sources ( attending Book Week in Kampala, Uganda mid-September) and other organizations in developing strategies to encourage literacy and foster a culture of reading. We are working with a potential partner, Orphans of Rwanda, an organization that sponsors Rwandan university students, to put together an Internship program for the students to teach literacy and computer skills at RCLLC.
Katie has been extremely successful in getting all these disparate pieces together and meets regularly with government officials to keep them apprised of our progress and involved in the project as it proceeds towards construction.
Our strength is this network of talented and experienced partners/people we have been fortunate to gather together. They consist of a wide range of professionals who have shared their unique expertise enabling RfR to structure a strong foundation to ensure the long-term sustainability of the RCLLC.
We are very grateful to everyone who has had a hand in shaping this project and continues to do so. It is truly a team effort. It has been your belief in what we are doing that has propelled us forward and we are working hard to take the RCLLC, the first public Community Library in Rwanda, from concept to completion.