Washington, D.C. — Rwandan citizens will soon have access to thousands of books in the country’s first public library. To help make this possible, Chemonics International sent 2,000 pounds of donated books to the Kigali Public Library, which will open its doors to the public next year.
Initiated by the Rotary Club of Kigali-Virunga in partnership with the Rwandan community, the library will hold 25,000 volumes. Donations have poured in, including 50 cartons of used books donated, packed, and shipped by Chemonics staff.
“We do so much management of large projects. It’s nice to do something grassroots,” said project manager Diane Bejarano, who spearheaded the effort. “Everyone was extremely generous with the books.”
Last fall, Beth Payne, a member of the Rotary Club and a U.S. Embassy employee, contacted Chemonics to ask for help with the book drive. Payne stressed the dire need: “For decades, Rwanda has suffered from isolationism, violence, and extremism. A library will open the world to Rwandans, enrich minds, and encourage critical thought, just as other institutions protect our safety and property.”
The scarcity of books — and the resulting lack of a culture of reading — is striking. Rwanda’s literacy rate is 47 percent, among the lowest in the world. In a country where per capita income is $250 per year, books are unaffordable. “Most new books cost $25 and up,” Payne noted.
The Kigali Public Library will cut across all facets of society, building a sense of community. It will also “level the playing field by making all its resources equally available to all members of its community, regardless of income, class, or other factors,” Payne added. Once users have access to the library’s materials, they will gain knowledge to help find employment or start a business.
Volunteers also hope the library will play a major role in opening children’s minds. “Bringing children into a library can transport them from the commonplace to the extraordinary,” Payne said. “From story hours for preschoolers to career and education planning for secondary students, the library will make a difference in encouraging the development of every individual who enters the premises.”
Chemonics staff donated children’s books, encyclopedias, and scientific references in English and French. Hard-bound books will be shelved in the library, while paperbacks will be part of an ongoing used book sale to raise funds for the construction of the facility.
Bejarano organized several book-packing parties with help from other volunteers. Working in an assembly-line fashion, volunteers assessed the suitability of the books and labeled each one as “a gift from the employees of Chemonics International to the people of Rwanda.” They packed, addressed, and sealed 50 cartons weighing 40 pounds each.
The Kigali Public Library, located in easy walking distance or a short bus ride for the majority of Kigali’s population, will open in 2002. The structure will be a modern three-story building large enough to welcome hundreds of Rwandans who lack adequate reading environments elsewhere.