In my other life, I work in international development. The other day I had the great pleasure of meeting a fantastic organisation based in Kigali. It's called the Isaro Foundation, and aims to promote a literary culture in Rwanda.
Their key activities include:
- Shipping books from the United States to Rwanda.
- Organizing reading and writing competitions and empowering Rwandan teachers through creative writing training.
- Sponsoring young Rwandan writers who are limited by lack of means in the publication of their books.
Each year they receive around 40,000 books from America, with the support of Books for Africa. They use these books to stock local public and school libraries. Books here are really expensive in terms of average income, very much a luxury item. Although Rwanda has a relatively good literacy rate, lack of reading materials hamper the development of a literary culture, with most books being academic textbooks and few people reading fiction for pleasure. What literature there is tends to come from the international market, rather than from within Rwanda itself.
Something that completely amazed me was that they've set up an e-library. They are piloting this, with around 40 Kindles and a stock of free ebooks. Early indications show that around 70% of kids who didn't read before are now reading regularly, thanks to access to e-readers.
Some time back, I wrote a piece on this blog about the lack of ISBNs holding back local writers in developing economic countries. There's a very similar article on Isaro's website.
It was a really interesting morning and we seemed to be reading from the same page, as it were. I recently established a non-profit called Nushu to act as a UK partner for publishing and writing projects in developing countries, to help promote writing and to help publishers and authors reach international markets.
Nushu's been quiet whilst we search for appropriate partners. Perhaps in Isaro Foundation we have found one. I'm hoping to go in this month and deliver a strategic planning workshop with them. After that, we'll see how we might be able to work together more closely.
Very excited by their enthusiasm and commitment to literature.