Dominique and her team over at Imagine We are working hard towards encouraging reading in Rwanda and have just released a new children’s book. Find out more about Imagine We on their Facebook page or website.
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Dominique Uwase Alonga. I am 24 years old and I am the founder and CEO of Imagine We Rwanda. I am what Google calls a ‘logophile’ – I am addicted to the written word and this passion is what drove me to start our organization. I believe that if we can learn what we need to learn to change the world, through books.
Can you explain to us what Imagine We is and what you do?
Imagine We Rwanda a social enterprise that aims to build a reading culture among young Rwandans and inspire them to become writers themselves. We equip libraries in underprivileged schools and community centers around Kigali, host reading and writing competitions, and train potential authors.
How did you get involved with this organisation and who are the team?
I’ve always been really passionate about books – something that is not part of our Rwandan culture. With the levels of illiteracy still quite high, my team and I wanted to play our part and make a change. We started in 2015 with the hope of equipping underprivileged schools in Kigali with high quality books that would inspire children to love books. We started our journey, with the help of Tigo, Reach for Change and Africa International Club, donating books and hosting competitions. We decided, towards the end of 2016, that we wanted to be more independent and sustainable. We realized that we had a bunch of stories from the competitions that had been hosted and we were inspired to start publishing and distributing books!
What sorts of books does Imagine We publish?
Our vision with the Publishing House is to create stories that Rwandans will be proud of. With our informal research, we realized that more than 80% of books about Rwanda are written by foreigners. And many of those books rotate around the genocide. We wanted to create something newer and fresher. Something that foreigners could use to learn about the Rwanda that Rwandans see everyday. And, we wanted something that we would be proud of as young Rwandans. And as we grow, we hope to take the vision to the Sub Saharan African region.
We started publishing children books but we have a few novels in the pipeline.
What’s the process you go through when publishing a new book?
The process is always going through edits and change because we’re growing in expertise and skill everyday! When an author contacts us, we request that they give us a brief summary of their manuscript or idea. If the story has potential, we look at the full manuscript for review. Unfortunately we are very picky about the books to publish because we are still very small.
The accepted authors work with us for a period of 3 – 6 months refining and working on the story. When necessary, one of our illustrators (we work with four, so far, to have different styles) starts working on illustrations that with the help of a script written by our team.
After all the illustrations are completed, I work on the graphic design and layout of the book. I am still looking into improving my skills but Google has been quite the helper in terms of fonts, design styles and layout formats. That usually takes about 3 to 5 days and very little sleep.
Can you tell us about your most recent book, ‘ABC’s of Rwanda’?
Our recent book has been such a trip! I am so excited about it and the reception it’s getting from tourists, expats and Rwandans! It was written by myself and a dear friend, Kelly Burke who lives in Washington DC. Kelly had been working in Nyagatare for a very long time and was helping a few families when she heard about us. She had wanted to capture some of her favorite aspects of Rwanda in a book. She heard about us through Google (thank you Google) and came to our office in October. We loved her idea! And we started brainstorming on what each letter could represent. And three months after, the book was out! Of course, there were a lot of sweat and tears from the whole team.
The book covers historical, cultural and geographical facets of Rwanda. As Kelly says, the vision was to help Rwandans fall in love with their country again and friends of Rwanda see Rwanda in a fun angle.
Where did the idea for this book come from and who is the target audience?
This book was originally written for children with very simple English and a lot of illustrations. But, we are realizing that many adults are loving the book and getting copies for themselves! Oh well, we can only be happy about that.
The fact that the book covers interesting facts about Rwanda’s culture, landscape and customs, people are using it as a sort of guideline? Or a sort of a map? Foreigners are reading it to learn about Rwanda, and Rwandans are reading it to remind themselves about their country.
What is the reading culture currently like in Rwanda and what do you think has to happen to encourage a love of reading?
The reading culture, unfortunately, is still very weak at this point. We’ve concluded that to make a change, we would start with children. However, children cannot read at home if their parents do not read to them or buy books for them. And parents will not know the benefits of reading if society itself doesn’t highlight its importance. It is a whole cycle that is quite hard to break. This is why we try, as much as we can, to make noise around reading events, competitions, book launches, etc. We hope to help Rwandans question the reading culture and its importance. There are several urgent causes that take the spotlight from the need to read; hunger, disease and many others. And, we cannot defy those; what we do is throw a few stones with the hope to break a few windows as the years go.
What does the future hold for Imagine We?
This year, we hope to release four books! This is a high bar for us but we are working hard. I am very grateful to have a very dedicated team that has a growing for our cause. We are also installing libraries in Pediatric wards in five hospitals (including one in Huye)! This should be completed by the end of this year.
For long term projects, we are looking at collaborating with Publishing houses in East Africa on a few crosscutting children books. We also hope to acquire some skills in the area of publishing and book editing.