A Library at the Head of the Nile

I first went to Rugezi Marsh on an outing to look at birds.

Per Wikipedia, “The Rugezi Marsh is one of headwaters of the Nile.” It is a final origin beyond the Victoria falls that Richard Burton identified as the head of the Nile in the 19th century.

The birds in Rwanda ARE spectacular, and like everything, endangered. The marsh boasts Cranes and Spoonbills among many others.


But the species that looked most endangered was homo sapiens. This was a poverty worse than what I was used to seeing in Rwanda.


I didn’t have to know anything about the history of Rwanda to see that the people that I had been working with were a more privileged group than these people.

After the birding tour we Peace Corps volunteers returned to the Ubuwuzu Hotel for lunch. This is one of the few places you can eat well in Rwanda.


Because I was the grown-up in the group and because I speak French the hotel owner, Blandine, asked me what I thought of the nature preserve area.


It turns out that Blandine is a nice Anglican Church lady who, aside from running the Ubuwuzu Hotel, is working very hard to help the poor of the Rugezi area. I told Blandine that my work involved distributing Solar Lanterns and Libraries. I had been working with Global Bright Light Foundation, a good deeds charity of various large energy companies around the world. However, Global Bright Light Foundation was no longer interested in supporting small groups with installment payment plans or protection against currency exchange fluctuations.

On the other hand, the USAID Mobile Library project was still functioning. I told Blandine about the Libraries.

origeneThe next week when I returned to the office in Kigali she discussed the matter by phone with Origene Rutayisire, the head of the project.

We told Blandine that in order to have a library the community would have to have a space in some secure room for the books and a bookcase to hold them. With the scarcity of wood in Rwanda, bookcases are surprisingly expensive.

I heard nothing for a month, so I called Blandine. To my surprise she told me, “We are finishing the room for the books.


I went to see. Indeed, they had build a room onto the back end of the Anglican church. The room had been there for most of a month, but when the white lady showed up it became a spot of great interest.

Inside, the two men who had done the building were busy finishing the mud brick walls with a protective coating of cement.  This is the standard  building technique in Rwanda. They had a big pile of wet cement in the middle of the floor.  When I showed up all work politely stopped.  I was in terror that they were going to have a big pile of hardening wasted cement in the middle of the floor so I asked them to let me take pictures of them applying it to the walls.

cementing_wall copy

On June 5, 2014 Origene, Hannah, (another Peace Corps volunteer) and I returned for the grand opening of the library. Blandine had all very efficiently at the ready.

We stopped at a carpenter and picked up shelves, nicely built and of appropriate style for the thin books that we were bringing. Rugezi Marsh is about 1/2 hour drive from the Ubuwuzu Hotel which is in the town of Byumba.

outside_churchWe arrived to find the secondary school students waiting for us at the church/library.





the_shelvesThe men from Ubuwuzi Hotel brought in the shelves, and then the books.





The students made a formal entry to inspect their new library.  These were the first and only books in the town.

entering1 entering_ragamuffin_watching

girl_in_lib looking_at_books1

There were the requisite formal pictures taken.


The persons in this one were, from left, the area Bishop, one of the two men who built the library, a certain old Peace Corps volunteer, the Minister of the church, Hannah Lam who was a Peace Corps volunteer stationed nearby, someone unknown, and the Headwaiter of the Ubuwuzu Hotel.  I have not identified them in this picture, but there was also a representative of a ministry in Kigali coming to support the opening.

You will notice that Blandine was not there for the grand opening. We arrived to this perfectly organized opening.  But where was the organizer?  She was in prison!  Blandine had been arrested under very dubious circumstances by the military head of the area who just happened to be the brother of the owner of another restaurant in the area, Blandine’s competition.  I don’t know whether commercial competition is the sole motive, or whether the problem was also that she supports people of the wrong group. What ever the story behind Blandine’s imprisonment, even from prison she managed to round up forces and stage a perfect library opening.

Eventually, Blandine got out of prison, but even six months later she has not been able to re-open her hotel.  I do hope that the closure is not permanent.

ceremony_origeneWe returned to the cars, ready to return to Byumba only to find that the hotel bar plastic chairs and VIP’s umbrella had been set up for an opening ceremony.

Origene spoke.  The Minister spoke.  The representative from Kigali spoke.  Even I gave a 9 sentence speech, partly in Kinyarwanda, (the native language).


The population gathered.  They segregated themselves into groups; adults,










ceremony_ragamuffins_studentsand children who don’t have the luxury of attending school.





I returned to the U.S. in June 2014.  Several months later I got an email from Blandine.  She had gotten out of prison and had taken some English visitors to see the library.  The community had selected (hired?) a couple of students to be librarians.  The library was being well cared for and used.

The books in the collection are mostly English language children’s books. This is appropriate.  There are only 10 million Kinyarwanda speakers.  Education is now in English.  There aren’t many books written in Kinyarwanda.  Anyone who is literate speaks French or English, (depending on their age).

I have been sorry that all of the books are readers.  I would have preferred to see some how-to books in the collection.  Specifically I recommend:

  • Carpentry
  • Furniture making
  • Cement techniques (expansion joints are seriously needed)
  • Sewing
  • Vegetable growing
  • Auto repair
  • Installation and repair of solar power (there is no electric grid in this village)
  • For inspiration: The Boy Who Harnassed the Wind.
  • Some manner of science instruction like that used by the boy who built his own windmill.
  • A small collection of Dr. Seuss – just because they’re the best for teaching literacy.

The USAID plan has been to install 85 of these libraries in the next few years.  Some have gone to communities that are only interested in ‘receiving’ not in doing the work to make a library function.  I have had the good fortune of getting six libraries started, all of which seem to be properly functional.  I would love to be able to improve what has been started.







How many Rwandans does it take to cook a pot of rice?

Last week the Minister  told me, “The women are having a hard time collecting enough fire wood to cook their meals.  Can you help?”

In fact I noticed while we were making the solar lamps that the fire wood that the children brought over was only kindling. I wondered at it then.


I told the Minister about solar cookers and told him that I would research them on the internet.  While I was at it I found with a different principle, Insulation cooking.  The theory is that you heat the food to boiling and then insulate it so that it cooks with the retained heat.  I remember my father talking about cooking this way and while looking things up on the internet I also found a report of an 800 year old insulation pot dug up in London so I figure that the method has withstood the test of time.

Yesterday afternoon I tried to teach a class to a few young men about solar cookers and this insulation cooker.    This idea was met with great hilarity by all.  You couldn’t possibly cook anything this way.  So I decided to prove it them, which was pretty brave considering that I have never done it.  We chose beans because they take 2 hours on the fire and only 15 minutes of fire cooking if you use insulation cooking.

We made an appointment to prepare beans at 8AM, and promptly at 9 AM everyone arrived.  One of the young men presented me with a bag of beans, dry, unsoaked.  I explained that beans need to be soaked overnight before being cooked.  No one thought of that, including me.  So, as a replacement we decided to cook rice.  It doesn’t need soaking.

The pastor had an old cardboard box kicking around.  We used that to contain the insulation. I walked with the young men to a stand of banana trees.  As the young men told me, “We’ve got lots of bananas around here.


We stripped some dried leaves off of their stems and filled the box with them.

Then the entire community cooked a pot of rice.  First we had to boil it for a few minutes on a wood fire.  That is done in the cook house on a fire with the pot held up by 3 rocks.


This young man wisely did not enter the cook house.  I have never seen a man in one.  They’re smart.  God, the smoke.  They say those things are bad for you.  It about killed me in the few minutes it took to give the rice its initial heating.  The Pastor’s wife and  the President of the Women’s group watched.

When the pot was boiling the Pastor and I brought it out and put it in the box.  I couldn’t take a picture of myself.  Besides, I was dieing of smoke inhalation.
The town English Teacher and town librarian held the aluminum foil at the ready.  We used it since the pot didn’t have a proper top.  Foil is an exotic item around here.l  I brought it as a reflector for the solar oven that wasn’t built.
Mary, my fellow teacher who is working on this with me, and the Pastor from the next town watched the process.

We put the pot in the box and the young men put extra banana on top to be sure it was well insulated.  For good measure I put my sleeping bag over the box.

And the men watched the box.  The man seated on the left is the village leader, second from right is the Pastor.  I have no idea what was with the man with the cloth folded over his head.  He walked around like that all morning.

I have been laughing all day at the number of people who stood and watched a cardboard box do nothing for a half hour.  It’s a good thing we didn’t cook beans.  Those sit in the box for 4 hours.  After a half hour of everyone watching the box with my sleeping bag over it we opened the box and 3 cheers, the rice was cooked.  We all sampled a taste.  It was rice.  It needed salt.

Will the town adopt insulation cooking?  I don’t know.  This afternoon there seemed to be a fair amount of turning up of noses among the women.  How can there be anything of value in an old card board box and dead banana leaves?

A Library


We arrived with the 3 tubs of books in the pick up truck – as always white with letters on the side. I had called Tharcisse, the school English teacher and ‘head librarian’ telling him that I was coming. I expected him to bring a boy to help lift the boxes. I didn’t see him. I called and he said, “I’m coming with a few boys.” Then I turned around.
They just kept coming over the hill.

We took the books into the library where the shelves awaited.

I told my group that they had to pay for their own shelves. They got someone to cut down a tree and cut it into boards. Where the tree bent the shelves bend. I have to restrain myself from coming with a wire and a couple of I-hooks to keep the whole thing from turning into a parallelogram. I guess, when it does they will do something to stabilize it. Or maybe they won’t, they’ll just pick it up until it falls again. I’ll see.

As instructed by Origene, we counted how many books were in English and how many in Kinyarwanda.
As that was going on two of the boys snuck in to take a first read.

Soon the village leader was ‘helping’ them.
And as tea was being served, I noticed…

Per Origene’s orders we were to inventory the books and check them off against a 20 page list. I announced that I would do it by spreadheet, but that the computer would need electricity. The European union has given the town school a solar panel so it was arranged that I would do the inventory there. I arrived the next Sunday and went to the school.
Soon the books arrived.

We counted.

There was interest.
Some got in and read
As did their mothers.

It was a grand fest. These are the ONLY books in this town.

Update  22 November 2013

I was at the village today and there was a steady stream of people coming into the library to check out books.


And this is what the usual group of women hanging out by the cook house looked like.

The trouble is that the library is 1000 books.   Of these 900 are in English and only 100 are in Kinyarwanda.  There is one person in town who can read English well enough to use the 900 English books.  I wish that I knew where to find them more books in Kinyarwanda and “How to” books in any language.  I wish that I could find a “How to do Carpentry”  or a “How to do Science Projects.”  This village has the potential to generate another “Boy who Harnessed the Wind”  if only there were the resources.


Making Solar Lanterns

Thanks to the generous gift from Suntoy Electronics we were able to construct the first set of solar lamps in a village in the far east of Rwanda, between the regional town of Nyagatare and the Uganda border.

Turashimira umuryango wa Suntoy Electronics wa duhaye impano ya amatara ya solar yo gucana muri East  Rwanda – Nyagatare.  Icyo gikorwa kigamije gufasha abana biga amashuri mato n’ayisumbuye (primary + secondary).  Gusoma n’ijori gukora etude.

I was introduced to this village last May by my fellow teacher Mary  whose own church is associated with the church there.

Namenye ahohantu mpabwiwe na Mary mukwezi  kwa gatanu (05/2013) .


From the village you can see across into Uganda.  It is easy to recognize the difference.  Each little field in Rwanda s carefully hedged.  Uganda is wide open spaces.

Uhagaze muruwo mudugudu ureba Uganda hafi yawe  (ni hafi yumupaka wa Uganda)

And here is why.  As of 2013 the Rwanda population of 10 million is squeezed in 424 people / square kilometer.  This is 10 times as densely populated as South Africa.  And they are using up the resources of the country at a rapid rate.  The top of the line is 2013. The line begins at 1950.  This chart is from gapminder.org.

Mu mwaka 2013 umubare wa baturage bu murwanda ungana na 10 million,  424 batuye kuri/km sq  ugererani je na  South Africa bo (abaturage)batuye kuri 42/km sq.


The town has an elementary school which has been given a solar panel by the European Union.  This electricity at the school is THE electricity in the town.

Uwo mudugudu ufite ishuri rya primary ryahawe solar panels numuryango wa European Union niwo muriro akogace bafite.
These are the children in a class.

Iyo shusho mubona ni abanye shuri bari mu’ishuri : mucyumba k’ishuri.

And after school there are chores to be done until dusk.

Iyo anonanyeshuri batashye, bakora imirimo ijyanye n’ubwo rozi (kuragira inka, ihene, etc).  Nkuko bigaragazwa niyo shusho mubona  haruguru.

Twenty-eight women in the village have formed themselves into the Ganza Club (Sustainability Club).  Their objective is to acquire solar lanterns.  And with the money saved not buying candles at $.07 each (1 to 3 every evening) or not buying batteries for lanterns $.67  they plan  to join their money together to start an enterprise.  The Ganza club has decided that the enterprise that they want to start is the manufacture and sale of solar lanterns.

Ayo matara yahawe ababyeyi bafite abana biga bangana na 28.  Bakaba barakoze association yitwa GANZA CLUB.  Uwo mushinga ugamije kuzigama.  Amafaranga yaguraga buje (candles) bacanaga angana na 50Rwf – 150 Rwf buri mugoroba.  Cg amabuye  yamatara bacanaga kuva 1 – 3 iminsi buri mugoroba angana na 450Rwf.    Abo babyeyi bahisemo gukome za uwo mushinga wo gukorea ayo matara bakaya gurisha mumasoko kugirango bakome zi kwiteza imbere.

On Monday, Nov 4, 2013 two Rwandans who teach high school in Kigali, and I went to the village to deliver the the 28 Solar cells and electronics which were  kindly donated
by Suntoy Electronic

Kuwambere tariki ya 04/11/2013 nibwo abarimu bigisha muri rimwe mwishuri ry’isumbuye rya Kigali hamwe nange twajyanye murako karere gutanga ayo matara.  Yatanzwe na Suntoy Electronics.

Here are the teachers, Mary and Gabriel hard at work helping with the construction.

Iyo shusho mubona niyabo barimo kwereka ababyeyi gukora amatara.


The ladies of the Ganza Club manufactured their first set of solar lamps – for themselves.

 Iyo shusho niya ababyeyi bari muri GANZA CLUB aho barimo kwikorera amatara yabo – ubwabo.

And also the smaller beneficiaries of the lamps had to come see the activities.

Iyo shusho mubona nabana babana nimirya ngo yahawe amatara.

The first job was to cut a hole in the lid of the jar.  Here the village leader has gotten into the act and is holding a jar lid with the top cut out.

Akazi kabanje gukorwa nugukata imyenge kumufuniko .

From our earlier experiments, Gabriel and I found that the easiest way to cut the hole was with a hot knife.  There was supposed to be a charcoal brazier but it didn’t appear.  That may be a city item that they didn’t have in the village.  I shall have to see that there is one for the next set of lantern manufacture.  Instead the knives were heated on the fire that was also cooking the beans for dinner as is demonstrated by this rather rude photo.  It was necessary to get low to stay out of the smoke.

Uburyo bworoshye bwo gukata iyo myenge byakoreshwaga icyuma gishyushye.  Iyo shusho mubona ni ababyeyi bari mugikoni bashyushya ibyuma ngo bakate – imyenge.


When the heat of the knife heating (and bean cooking) fire got a little low the junior fans of the Ganza Club suddenly appeared with more kindling.

When the fire got low the children brought more wood.

Abo nabana bazanaga inkwi zo gucana kugirango bateke ibishyimbo ariko banashyushya ibyuma bakoreshaga.


After cutting the hole the next job was to glue the panel to the lid.  This is Grace.  The first thing Grace did was to help herself to my pink glasses.  Then being able to see, she worked like a beaver gluing panels onto lids.  (And I walked around in a bit of a blur).  Behind Grace you can see a mother who managed to balance work and motherhood.  In fact in spite of the number of knives being wielded in dubious manners, I am pleased to report that no babies were stabbed in the making of these lanterns.

Uwo mubyeyi ni Grace wa shyiragaho glue yogufatisha solar n’umufuniko kugira bifatane.

3 adjust4


abo mubona nababyeyi borimo bikorera amatara ya solar.


testing out the switch.

Aho mubona barimo barareba ko yaka.
they_work5  They_work1
They work.  Sorry, but smiling for the camera is does not seem to be automatic here.

Iyoshusho ni umuyobozi w’umudugudu na babyeyi bamwe berekana amatara barangije gukora.

And photos of the completed project.

Iyo photo niya abanyamurya ngo ba GANZA CLUB bamaze gukora no guhabwa amatara yabo.



With Mary, Epimoque  the village leader, and Gabriel

Iyo photo ni Mary hamwe na Gabriel barikumwe na  abanyamuryango ba GANZA CLUB.

And with an old lady with a pink t-shirt

Iyo photo ni  Claudia na babyeyi bakuze cyane barimuri GANZA CLUB.


The Ganza Club send their sincere thanks to Suntoy Electronics (with the help of the town English teacher).

GANZA CLUB , irashimira byimazeyo Suntoy Electronics kuba yarabahaye amatara yo gucana abana babo bakaba bagiye kuzajya bakora neza  isubiramo mumasomo nijoro.













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