Before lockdown in Rwanda, our partner Ineza Foundation was using books you help to send to support community libraries across the country. This included five Children’s Corners that we have created together and our Voyager Container Library in Kigali, giving a whole community access to brand new books.
Lockdown has closed schools and libraries in Rwanda but Ineza Foundation are finding new ways to support the communities they work in.
Here, Ineza’s Elizabeth Mujawamaliya Johnson tells us more.
What restrictions on normal life are being imposed because of Covid?
After the initial two-week lockdown on 21st March due, we received extensions twice until 30th April.
Now Rwanda is taking steps to ease the measures. Public transportation has resumed but with limitations, there is a curfew from 8pm to 5am, schools will remain closed until September and wearing facemasks in public is mandatory at all times.
Businesses have resumed work with essential staff while other employers continue to work from home. Markets are open for essential vendors and hotels and restaurants are now open but have to close by 7pm. Meetings in public spaces and mass gatherings are still prohibited.
Education has been affected greatly.
How is the lockdown affecting people’s lives in Rwanda?
The first challenge was lack of food, especially in Kigali and other cities because many people live on their daily incomes. If you work, you can provide a meal for your family, but if no work, then no basic sustenance.
Also since Rwandans are culturally social, it was hard to stay home and not meet friends and family. However, people have had to learn new ways of living, by sharing what they have and using the phone to communicate. The government and partners provided food and neighbours also share what they have to support the vulnerable.
How is the lockdown affecting children’s education?
Education has been affected greatly, but again people have had to adjust to the reality of what is happening.
The government has launched an eLearning platform using TV, phones, computers and radio. But children living in rural areas are unable to access some of these as they don’t have a TV, smartphone or computer. However, the use of the radio to provide lessons is perfect as it can reach every student everywhere in the country.
It is just the beginning and I believe that more platforms will be introduced to support children to continue their learning at home until schools resume.
We have focused on supporting our local readers and communities with food.
Do people often have books at home in Rwanda?
Rwandans are not readers and they do not have books at home. The first national/public library is less than 10 years old and a culture of reading is currently being introduced. We believe the work we are doing with Book Aid International – creating and equipping more community libraries – is a solution to create that culture though getting books in to the hands of readers.
Our library in Shyorongi … is going to be used for early childhood monitoring and support … This is a great opportunity to promote literacy by providing those new mums with new books to borrow.
How has your work changed since the lockdown?
During the past few weeks, we have focused on supporting our local readers and the communities with food distribution. Basically, we decided to focus on responding to immediate needs and also following what the government was recommending.
The libraries are still closed, but as of today, our library in Shyorongi in the Northern Province is going to be used by local community for early childhood monitoring and support. Basically, mothers with newborn babies and pregnant women will meet at the centre to receive food and to learn how to prepare complete meals for their babies. This is a great opportunity for Ineza Foundation to promote literacy by providing those new mums with books to borrow once a week, until the libraries are open again.
Here in Gisozi, we are continuing to sort books for future distributions.
We believe if we can get more books into the hands of children during lockdown, they will help further their learning.
Do you have any further plans in development?
Yes, we are working with local government officials exploring ways to use the books. We are looking at promoting take-home books distribution. We believe if we can get more books into the hands of children during lockdown, they will help further their learning. When the schools reopen, children will be able to share with their classmates about their reading at this time, they will be motivated to continue reading once back at school. Also, if we can get more books to children, parents will also read or children will read to their parents, therefore promoting the reading culture at all levels: young and adult.
The only challenge we have, is how to get these books to many children, taking into consideration the COVID restrictions. We are still having discussions; we do not want to act before approval from local government. Safety for the community comes first!
*The photos contained in this blog were taken before lockdown.