Shema joins his mother every day as she works in the fields. A large green insect attracts his curiosity. “Mommy, what are those bugs?” he asks. “They’re called grasshoppers,” she answers. The young boy soon learns that while the insects can be eaten, they can also bite. Children in Rwanda must learn to be cautious.
Like the Rwandan folktales passed down through generations, No More Bites! is a simple story with a simple message: there are many dangerous creatures in the wild. Written by classroom teacher Minari Vedaste and illustrated by Rupert Bazambanza—an activist and survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide—the book is one among many new teacher-authored stories published for use in early grades classrooms.
In Rwanda, a country with a rich oral tradition, teachers are learning the art of written storytelling, thanks to the Literacy, Language, and Learning (L3) initiative, a USAID-funded program directed by EDC. Through this initiative, teachers like Minari can attend writing workshops and learn to write stories that will engage young children learning to read in Rwandan classrooms.
“The workshops have been incredibly successful,” says Jackie Lewis, who is based in Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali. “They have encouraged workshop participants, who were proud of their finished products and surprised by their own writing skills.”
The best stories produced in the workshops are selected for illustration and publication. Once published, the books will be distributed to classrooms and via mobile libraries throughout the region. Written in English and the local language Kinyarwanda, stories such as Kevine and the Running Trees, Adventure in the City, and The Magic of Lake Kivu reflect the local culture, environment, beliefs, fantasies, and life passages.
The first teacher writing workshops were held in Bugesera in April, with 34 teachers and 2 sector officers participating. More are planned for the Teacher Training Colleges in Byumba, with teachers, teacher mentors, and student teachers expected to attend.
“Participants have been asking for more workshops,” says Lewis. “Some have continued to send additional stories after the workshop’s completion.”
Important steps toward literacy
The citizens of Rwanda suffered horrible acts of violence in the genocide of April 1994, which left some 800,000 people dead and countless others maimed and displaced as refugees. Today, Rwanda is healing—and looking toward a better future for the next generation. Promoting literacy in the early grades and providing teachers with training and materials to teach reading and writing is an important step.
“Rwanda has a vision and the political will to do big things,” says EDC’s Said Yasin, who has also worked on EDC development programs in Somalia and Ethiopia.
The L3 initiative is a national comprehensive program for grades 1 to 4 to improve students’ reading, math, and English language skills. Working in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, USAID, and technical partners, L3 seeks to improve the quality of Rwanda’s teaching, access to learning materials and tools (including books and lessons/activities delivered via audio, video, radio, MP3 players, and mobile phones), support for English, ministry capacity, and equity in education. A state-of-the-art, audio-visual recording studio has been built to record teaching materials for reading and math in English and Kinyarwanda.
By the end of its five years, L3 is projected to reach over 1.5 million learners and nearly 30,000 teachers. “The government wants 100 percent access to schooling for children,” says Yasin. “There’s an optimism in Rwanda and a can-do attitude.”
Originally published on September 6, 2012