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.
- 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.
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
- 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!