Archives

Kigali – November 1, 2011

The rate at which change is happening in Rwanda is astounding. The airport for example now has a couple of small deli-type places to get a bite to eat and Bourbon Coffee Shop. It’s Rwanda’s answer to Starbucks with 2 other locations in downtown Kigali. Rwanda is known for its Arabia beans, with the right elevation, climate and volcanic soil, the western part of the country is ideal for growing coffee.In the past 10 years Techno Serve and the Gates Foundation have come together and are working to help smallholder coffee farmers organize and develop co-ops and build washing stations. As a consolidated group rather than individuals they can do business with big coffee buyers such as Starbucks, marketing it as a specialty boutique coffee. This insures less middlemen, more profit in the farmers pocket. If you’re interested in sampling this delicious coffee here’s a link – http://shop.coffeerwanda.com/.

A new VIP lounge has also opened in the airport, the Pearl Lounge, free for those traveling business or first class, complete with cocktails and WiFi.For those of us in steerage class, for a mere15,000 Rwandan Francs, about $25 USD, we too can be VIPs.

Buildings downtown Kigali

The traffic, while not as bad as I-95, at rush hour can snarl and slow traffic to a creep. . On the way to the airport I was afraid I’d be late because we had to crawl halfway there. They have new traffic lights which neither Katie or myself can figure out how they work.You end up going when the lights are red as well as green and for some unknown reason and it kinda works. The streets are overrun with tons of motos (motorcycle taxis) which are the cheapest and most dangerous way to get around town.They sometimes travel in packs, swarming the road weaving in and out of traffic, horns blaring, coming perilously close to cars and trucks and killing the customer sitting behind them….only centimeters to spare.

DSC00249

As always, the radius and density of electric lights grows along with new neat and tidy houses replacing the mud huts on the many hillsides that comprise Kigali. There arenew high rises jutting into the ever growing skyline that were in their infancy last time I was here in February – and we parked in a multi story parking garage…a new experience for me in Rwanda.

Rwinkwavu – October 31, 2011

It has been a blur of days since I arrived in Kigali a couple of Saturdays ago…and now I’m homeward bound. We spent a lot of time out at the site. Pictures don’t do the building justice and in 2 dimensional drawings it’s hard to grasp the scale. The site is a beehive of activity; digging for and building the septic tanks as well as underground water cisterns, welding to secure the last of the trusses and excavation of the outdoor amphitheater. By the time I left our last site visit today, more than half of the brick red roof has popped up, visible from behind the 12 ft metal construction fence. Katie and I hiked up a hill behind the site to take a picture. From that vantage the Library/Learning center looks to be one of the larger buildings, along with some on the Rwinkwavu Hospital campus, in all the area. I’m sure at the next site visit Friday the roof will be up.

7800 square feet of hope and potential!

What a difference a year makes!  As I reflect on where we were last year at this time it’s amazing to think our goal is so near. Construction has moved along well and I’ll be heading to Rwanda October 21st to check things out first hand.  With the roof scheduled to be up the later part of October, in time for the start of the rainy season, the 7,800 square foot Rwinkwavu Community Library and Learning Center will open its doors in the first quarter of 2012.

10-19-11b

Site before construction began this past March – note Partners In Health storage building on the right

Our focus this trip is on finalizing the myriad details that need to be in place to get us up and running. We’ve carefully thought out furniture, equipment, programming and staffing and how this will all work together. After a couple of years looking at two dimensional drawings it’ll be so thrilling to walk into the main entrance and through the RCLLC room by room. Imagine story hour in the preschool room, shouts of children on the playground, afterschool homework groups, soccer nights in the amphitheater, game night in the Reading Room, a group of adults practicing their English.  A welcoming space characterized by the buzz of congenial congestion that’ll serve the needs of all age groups, bringing the generations and community together.

October 13th site photo – same view looking towards the storage building - roof trusses going up

October 13th site photo – same view looking towards the storage building - roof trusses going up

We believe that ultimately, the quality of what happens inside the building, along with local participation and a feeling of ownership, will be what defines the success of the Center.

Be sure to continue to check our blog for updates and photos from the road!

Betsy

Foundation and Slab Portion of Construction Nearly Done

As I write this update the slab is being poured…or not exactly. I should say it’s being laid. The workers mix the cement on the ground at the site and transport it via very large bowls carried on their heads. Foundation rocks are also moved this way or in wheelbarrows. There’s no heavy machinery…all excavation, footings, foundation and slab work are done with hand tools and muscle.

One of the things we were adamant about was that the work force should all be local. There are approximately 150 workers employed, divided into day and night shifts AND 50% of these laborers are women! They dig, lift and transport just like their male counterparts. There’s also a carpentry and welding workshop on-site where most of the woodwork and metal components and furniture will be made by local craftsmen.

So, with the foundation and slab portion of construction nearly done we are looking forward to seeing the brick walls go up at the end of the week!

Be sure to take a look at the slide show…as they say a picture’s worth a thousand words.

Betsy

Fall 2010 – Update

2010 closes with the great news that we will be breaking ground on February 7th!! Though it’s taken longer than we anticipated due to the uncertain economic environment, we have used that time well in preparing for what will take place in the building once we open the doors.

We see the seeds of the vision we planted two and half years ago spreading its roots through our network of new and existing partners. The Rwinkwavu community continues to rally around the Rwinkwavu Community Library/Learning Center (RCLLC) and the promise it holds.

Last March, Katie Uher, RfR Program Director, and our Rwandan university student interns conducted a series of 19 focus groups in Rwinkwavu to help determine the programming and scheduling needs of the community. It was a great opportunity, through these students, to connect with the leaders of the villages (umudugudus) in the sector to encourage local buy-in, build trust and make it clear that the success of the project relieves heavily upon Rwandan participation.

We got so much valuable feedback from all the groups and they were amazed that we took the time to ask what they want/need. The Grandparents we interviewed, as is the case with the majority of older people, hadn’t gotten past Primary 2. They hope to learn enough English to be able to give directions to tourists on their way to Akagera Game Park and said “…most of us have eye problems, it would be helpful if we have reading glasses at the library to help us during literacy training.” Primary 6 girls were adamant that we educate their parents about birth control and the importance of girls going to school. To echo that, the older out-of-school girls are yearning for educational and job opportunities. As one girl said,” We are facing many problems caused by poverty and ignorance. So I would like to ask you to emphasize programs designed for the youth to help us improve our conditions of life.” The community women were unanimous in their request that the RCLLC “…should train us how to become an entrepreneur…how to earn income through small jobs.”

The RCLLC is the only facility in the area suitable for housing the programming we plan to make available. True to our belief that collaboration not duplication is more efficient and effective, we continue to lay the groundwork for building solid partnerships and programming.

Katie has researched African sources for books, learning materials and programming. In December, while taking a month-long Cambridge University certified ESL literacy training course in Cape Town, South Africa, she visited many of these sources: publishers, programming, audio books, educational toys and learning aids and more. Additional sources have been identified in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Purchasing in Africa presents literacy in an African context, supports the African publishing industry and cuts down on the cost of shipping.

In October Katie met with the top Clinton Foundation people in Rwanda. They are collaborating with Soyco in building an oil processing plant and cultivating soy fields near the Library/Learning Center, which will bring 1600 new jobs to the District. Soyco and Clinton Foundation plan to provide job skills and financial management training and are very interested in using the Library/Learning Center for this training and collaborating on programming.

While the Library/Learning Center is under construction Katie will implement a pilot literacy program in Rwinkwavu in March. We will be able to assess, fine-tune and tailor the programming to best suit the needs of community, so we are ready to roll out the programming when the RCLLC opens its doors.

To that end we recently met with LitWorld (www.litworld.org) head-quartered in New York, who has developed and executed excellent community-based literacy and literacy leader training programs in New York, Kenya, Liberia, Ghana and Iraq. They educate community members to become literacy leaders/trainers through easy-to-use programs and materials.

We have identified several areas to start off our work together: preschool planning and curriculum, Girls Club/mentoring and on March 9th we will be participating in LitWorlds second “World Read Aloud Day”. Katie will be organizing Rwinkwavu community-wide participation.

Allen Moore and I are heading over to Rwanda January 28th in preparation for our February 7th groundbreaking celebration. We have a lovely program organized and representatives from the Ministry of Sports and Culture, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health will be attending as well as the Mayor and other local officials and the community.

We’ll be sure to post pictures of the groundbreaking on our website blog as well as updated photos as the building goes up.

Thanks to all who have supported our efforts! Stay tuned……..

Rwinkwavu Community Library and Learning Center Update, Fall 2009/Winter 2010

Fall 2009

Allen Moore, Ready for Reading (RfR) consulting architect, and I got back from our most recent trip to Rwanda several days before Thanksgiving giving us time to recover from jet lag and prepare for the holiday. This trip it really felt like going home as we deplaned on the tarmac at Kigali International Airport, greeted by the now familiar smell of coal fires mingling with the earthy humid equatorial air.

One of our goals this trip was to meet with RfR Rwandan architect to review all architectural plans/drawings, updated construction costs, qualified contractors, materials options. Just before we left for Rwanda we received word that all the necessary district and environmental construction permits had been granted.  We were successful in leaving Rwanda with the building phase of the project “ready to go.”

Our other goal this trip was to meet with our administrative/programming team, update all stakeholders (federal/local government, NGOs, Rwinkwavu community) and make new connections with others working in education and literacy.

Early on we met with US Ambassador Stuart Symington at his residence to update him on our progress and get his impressions of Rwanda’s continued growth and feedback on existing or lack of existing literacy/educational programs operating in the country. Ambassador Symington confirmed much of what we had researched and gave us a few new leads. He was gracious and hospitable and the homemade oatmeal cookies he served were a welcome treat after 24 hours of airline food.

We headed out to Rwinkwavu for several days with a stop en route at the Kayonza District offices. We had a whole slew of meetings scheduled with the community and other stakeholders.

Stakeholders Meetings

  • We are looking for ways to bridge the medical education needs of the community by offering talks on community health care issues. Didi Bertrand Farmer, the Director of Community Health and Social Development Programs, coordinates and mobilizes the community health care worker system countrywide.  Katie and I spent a day with Didi on home visits to several community health care workers and some of the people they are responsible for.  We plan to provide computer skills training for these workers so they can log their carefully kept records into a central PIH database.  Didi would also like to coordinate child/care in an educational setting in the Library/Learning Center while the community health care workers (mostly mothers) are attending their monthly health training at the Nursing Training Center adjacent to the RCLLC. We plan to hire girls in the community who are finished with their primary education and will not be going onto secondary to provide childcare for the health care workers; as well as for mothers who attend language and computer literacy classes at the learning center. There is very little economic opportunity for these girls and they usually end up marrying young, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
  • Local women in Rwinkwavu are spearheading  the establishment of a pre-school at the RCLLC.  This kind of grassroots community initiative is what we continue to encourage.
  • Along those lines, Hubert Niyibizi, Executive Director of Rwinkwavu Sector and local members of the Library Management Committee with whom we met, have pledged community labor for helping prepare the site for planting the green fencing, shrubs, around the perimeter of the library property before we start construction.
  • Allen, Wilson and Fabrice Nusenga, the Head of the PIH Carpentry and Welding Workshops in Rwinkwavu, have gone over and determined all materials, design and costs for library furnishings and fittings.

It was exciting to see the site allocated for the RCLLC by the Ministry of Health and the District. We were anxious to see for ourselves and confirm that the topography and slope of the land conforms to our architectural plans and requires the minimum in terms of excavation, and it does!  It is significant in keeping costs down and enabling us to put more dollars into equipping and programming rather than pushing dirt around.  With its location on  the Rwinkwavu Hospital campus staff, patients and people coming to the clinic will be able to easily access the RCLLC and its programs.  Allen and Wilson (Rw architect) drew quite a crowd of locals creating quite a buzz the 2 hrs they spent taking careful measurements and staking out the location of the building on the lot, the first step in bringing the architectural drawings to life.

Allen and Wilson worked endlessly reviewing every detail of the project, visiting vendors in Kigali to pick out just the right brick, windows and roofing.  Attention to detail of this kind is not only for aesthetic purposes but also considers the way construction will impact the maintenance of the RCLLC long term. Sustainability is a key issue so our goal is to create a well-constructed building with quality materials avoiding unnecessary repairs due to inferior components and workmanship in how the building is fitted together.

Winter 2010

In February going into the rainy season we decided it was the right time to plant the green fence to define the perimeter of the RCLLC site. The last Saturday of each month is Umuganda, or community service day, set aside to work on a project in the sector after which a meeting is held to share the latest community and government information and discuss and solve problems.  Saturday, February 27th, was dedicated to clearing the area and digging the beds for the shrubs to be planted the following week by locally hired labor.   Katie reports that there was a good turnout of about 60 people working side by side with Wilson, Simon Mvunabandi, ORI/RfR Student Intern leader, and herself. After the work was done Simon spoke a few words of thanks in Kinyarwanda and explained what the RCLLC will offer and asked for any input and ideas.  He announced that beginning next month,  RfR will be holding small meetings with different groups in the community to assist in planning for books and programming. See our web site www.readyforreading.org for photos and a write-up by Katie on the community feedback.

In March Katie will be begin conducting focus groups out in Rwinkwavu using PIH meeting space for this purpose.  We are targeting different segments of the population in order to design appropriate programming and scheduling to accommodate the different needs.  The groups we have so far identified are school heads, teachers, parents associations, student leaders, community health workers, out of school youth:one group boys and one group girls, hospital staff, PIH staff, community members: one group men and one group women, Executive Secretary and umudugudu (village) chiefs.

We are partnering with Orphans of Rwanda (ORI) www.orphansofrwanda.org, in administering the focus groups.  This is an organization that sponsors Rwanda University students and is looking for Internship opportunities for their students. They come from all over the country and without this sponsorship and mentorship, would have no chance of   attending University and obtaining a degree.  As mentioned above, ORI and RfR have designated Simon Mvunabandi as Student Leader/Coordinator of the RCLLC Interns.   Katie will work with Simon to train six students and provide them valuable fieldwork in conducting the focus groups, gathering important information/feedback and communicating and explaining the idea of a library/learning center and the value of literacy and access to information.  This also gives us a good opportunity to connect with the leaders of the small villages (umudugudus) in the sector. Having Rwandans working/coordinating with Rwandans communicating in Kinyarwanda is a key factor in encouraging local buy-in, building trust and making it clear that the success of the project relies heavily on Rwandan participation.

In closing we have established many new relationships with other organizations in Rwanda working on literacy/education. Most of these organizations are in their early stages and we have made in-roads in terms of sharing information and possible future collaboration/partnerships in an effort not to duplicate efforts where possible.

  • Kigali Public Library, scheduled to open 2010  is interested in a potential collaboration/partnering on programming and sharing of books when we are both up and running
  • We continue to deepen our ties with Friends of African Village Libraries (FAVL.org) in building an East African Association of Libraries to help support librarians with information on books, programming and management issues.
  • At the end of January Katie went to Kampala, Uganda to attend the first of two yearly workshops sponsored by FAVL
  • In February, for the first time, a Book Fair was held in Rwanda in the capital, Kigali.  Katie reported that it was well attended by a good number of publishers from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Editions Bakame, a Rwandan publisher.  These publishers will be a good source of contextually appropriate books in English, Swahili and some Kinyarwanda for the RCLLC and we are also behind the idea of supporting the African publishing industry.
  • Books for Bugesera
  • Miracle Corners
  • RAPP – educate through participatory theatre productions
  • USAID
  • Director of the Library at the Kigali Institute of Education
  • Director of the Library at the National University of Rwanda

And lastly, we continue to work to raise the funds to begin construction of the RCLLC. As we have previously noted in our project report, we will not begin the building until 100% of the construction costs have been funded. We will keep you updated on our progress with new blog postings and photos on our web site www.readyforreading.org. Thanks for your support and interest in the work of Ready for Reading!

Betsy Dickey
Founder/Chairman

Rwinkwavu Community Center and Library Update, Summer 2009

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.

Betsy Dickey
Founder/Chairman