The Greatest Village Project that I Didn’t Create (and YOU can help)

I love watching as empowerment stops becoming a buzzword and becomes a reality. Especially when it involves a better future for my students. So let’s talk about books. (Spoiler alert: we need books!!)

The hot sun slowly soaks up the morning rain puddles on what seems to be quickly turning into a classic school afternoon in my village. In a dark and dusty room, primary students huddle around a small table reading books in Kinyarwanda about lions and monkeys. Though the room is musty, the children are unaware of anything around them but the colorful pictures on the pages they hold in their hands.

A shockingly large colony of wasps hovers above them, but it seems some sort of understanding has been established between these two groups. Books are for children to read. Ceilings are for wasps to raise families.

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If you walk out of this cluttered room of young children and primary teachers, you will catch sight of a half built structure. Stone by stone five men in their mid thirties crank a cellphone radio for entertainment and haul piece of rock into place. A common Rwandan phrase is “slow by slow.” That sums up the work of these masons. And yet, they are methodical and determined in their work. The building sticks out, oddly protruding in front of the rest of the school, which betrays its importance.

The building will be a library.

The wasps will stay in the musty classroom, and the children will move.
Peace Corps Volunteers and other NGOs are able to implement such projects. They can help provide funding or partnership especially as Rwanda works to create more of a reading culture within its schools.

I have worked on several projects here. The library building that will bring new opportunities and positive change to this village is not one of them.

The community created this dream. This is their dream. This is their brainchild. I’m simply to help the dream come to full fruition.
Yes, you could say I’m living the dream of any Peace Corps volunteer. I am helping a community project forged by the village itself and funded by none other than community members and the school.

“Sustainability” and “empowerment” are buzz words in the development word. But though those words are thrown around quite a bit, achieving those goals is easier said than done. This library in my village is the spitting image of what positive development looks like. Made for the community, made by the community.

The library is slowly by slowly becoming a beautiful, cozy building, though the walls are only halfway up. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I will work to implement library trainings and add a space for an ICT lab.

There is one thing lacking in this equation: Books.

This may be surprising. The abandoned classroom used as a library currently is stacked with books already. But 95% of these books, however, are old, outdated textbooks. They are kept there for storage and storage only. The precious few children books are the only resources the school currently has. Researching a topic or picking up a book just to read it is virtually unheard of.

Like I said. There is one thing lacking: Books.

Books with pictures, books in kinyarwanda, research books, magazines, children’s books, coffee table books, beginner level novels. These are things my students only dream of.

You can help bring books to these kids.

My school is located in a village of roughly 400 adults, but the school is filled with over 2,500 students. About 2,000 of those are at the primary level. There are many students and few resources. And my students are hungry to learn.

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I put a simple poster of an example letter on my front door and students flock to read it. I sit in my living room and hear students practicing their English outside. Imagine if these students could also hold a book with hundreds of pages, hundreds of places to go, to learn, and to expand their imaginations.

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Team Nice Guys and Team Foresight Heroes work on an in-class project. Chalkboards are generally the only resource available for classes.

The Rwandan Education Board has been very adamant about bringing resources to schools in the rural villages, and recently my village received laptops, a good first step. Now, a step has been made to build an actual space for students to read, research and study. Reading culture and library culture is not yet prevalent in my area. And the English level is low. But this building is an opportunity.

This is a chance for older students to learn how to critically think and research for group projects. It gives them a chance to increase literacy and knowledge independently as well as within structured library classes.

All of this is a dream. But there is a literal foundation for that dream.

As a Peace Corps volunteer, I’m here to facilitate trainings. The school has funded and begun building a brand new space for this library. And now to complete this equation, we simply need books and library resources to fill the space once the building is finished.
So I will end this unconventional post request.

Help me with the best project I have become involved with in my village: a project I did not start or fund or suggest. A project promoting new levels of learning in my community funded by, created by, and inspired by the intelligent and ambitious leaders and teachers of my village.

Any books you can send will be a huge help to my students and to this school.

There are specific types of books that will tangibly make a difference. Magazines like National Geographic, books on general topics (Encyclopedias for example), beginner level novels, children’s books of all kinds, and other similar topics will be the most helpful in the success of this library project.

Let me know if you have any questions! My email is rysandford@gmail.com. You can also reach me via WhatsApp at +250 781 447 543 if you’re interested in getting involved.

Thanks for taking the time to read this!

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