David Gilbert Rwabigwi is a Rwandan writer who has shifted the paradigm of reading and writing among the youth. He is also the Founder and Leader of Youth Literacy Organisation (YouLi), a non profit whose mission is to advance literacy and learning @YouthLiteracy, a Thinker at @EjoGroup (http://www.ejo.co.rw/summit/) and blogger for @TheKigalian(The Kigalian).
At only 21 years (2011), he is the author of, ‘Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: A Collection of Poetry on Genocide,’ and founder of High School Review (HSR), a non-profit student run Group/Organisation aimed at developing the reading and writing culture at early ages.
He spoke to The New Times about his inspiration to write, ambitions and goals.
Below are the excerpts:
Q: Who is David Gibert Rwabigwi? A: Well, I was born in Rwanda, sometime in 1990, and four years later I lost both of my parents and one of my sisters during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. After the genocide, I went on living with my lovely brothers and sisters who struggled to educate me.
I did part of my primary school education at Camp Kigali Primary School but finished at Ecole Primaire l’Horizon. I had the privilege to attend the famous and historic Indatwa n’Inkesha School (Groupe Scolaire Officiel de Butare), where I learnt a lot as far as intellectual and cultural education is concerned.
During my A’ Level, I pursued Physics-Biology-Chemistry but later switched to History-Economics-Geography. I graduated from High School at Groupe Scolaire Kigombe (GSK), a private school located in Musanze District, home to our famous gorillas.
Q: What are your hobbies? B: My hobbies have always included writing, editing, browsing the net, chilling with my friends, watching the news (ABC, CNN, BBC) late at night and, of course, reading.
Reading and writing opened doors for me and I won the 2007 National Writing Contest courtesy of the Ministry of Education.
I was then appointed the first non-literary-section-related student to head the Indatwa n’Inkesha Review (formerly SERVIR) that was established in Indatwa n’Inkesha School (IIS) in 1940. I not only became more confident and empowered, but also encouraged to move forward.
Q: Why do you believe that there is a general misconception that Rwanda has no reading culture? A: Well, this is somehow obvious – talking about this culture in Rwanda.
As many other African countries, Rwanda’s culture did not favour people to read. One would tell much about this subject – as we cannot forget to mention the role colonization played in not elevating reading.
What I believe now is that Rwanda has a huge passion for reading and writing. However, this passion is found in the younger generation. The problem is, they have this passion for reading but they do not read. And the question is, why?
Q: What inspired you to create High School Review? A: High School Review (HSR) is mostly about elevating the reading and writing culture in Rwanda. From the little school-based and limited Indatwa n’Inkesha Review I headed back in 2008, the outcomes, the experiences and achievements, visions and missions, would make one dream broader; something that would take part of our nation’s vision and struggle for sustained development.
When you talk to most of the people who do not read, they’ll not hesitate to point out the lack of materials. But this should not be considered as a significant reason.
For now, we, at HSR, are more focused on writing because we believe that if we need to have more reading done, then we’ll have to create more writing.
Q: Why the slogan, ‘We Read Once We Write’.A: If we need to create more reading, we’ll have to empower more people to write; and not simply writing effectively, but writing for publication. “We Read Once We Write” is simply a way of reminding people, especially Africans, that, they need to empower their writers and their publishing systems.
We know that there are numerous young and old people out there who spend most of their free time writing, they finish but keep their fascinating stories in books, papers and computers. We needed to give all these writers a platform to expose their writing.
Q: Why focus on grooming young writers and readers? A: I’ve never been able to stand and say that our elders have not done what is necessary to elevate the reading and writing culture in Rwanda.
Looking at the school curriculum (we only hope the Ministry of Education will soon act), the programmes by the institutions in charge of cultural affairs, the publishing system which is more or less, let me emphasize this, focused on journalism, we couldn’t sit and wait for authorities to act yet we have the ability to do something.
Focusing on the youth through peer-learning is significantly inspiring the rest by bringing together diverse skills from different corners of the world.
Q: What inspired you to write your first book? Like all Rwandans, I have been part of the history of the 1994 Genocide.
I have been directly affected by its horrors. It was very important for me to use my writing skills and write poems to raise awareness on what happened to my country.
My collection of poetry was inspired by the book, ‘The history of Rwanda and the 1994 Genocide committed against the Tutsi, the aftermath.’ It talks about Rwanda’s yesterday, today and tomorrow” to mean where Rwanda has been, where She has reached and where we’re heading.
Q: What challenges do writers in Rwanda face? A: The publishing system. First of all, writing should not only be seen as journalism. There is lack of awareness in raising the level of skills in writing, publishing, editing and other related issues.
Q: How has reading and writing shaped your personality? A: Most of my important learning is generated from reading and observation. And from reading what other people have written, I was able to gain some writing skills and more.
Q: What are your favorite books, author, and quote? My favourite list has always been about Rwanda. My favourite book is Louise Mushikwabo’s ‘Rwanda Means the Universe: A Native Memoir of Blood and Bloodlines (2006: St. Martin’s Press)’.
I was really astounded by the way she wrote such a fascinating story going back to the roots of Rwanda’s history and the history of the genocide, combined by her day-to-day account of her family’s situation during those hard times.
I have also enjoyed reading through Philip Gourevich’s, ‘We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families (1998: FSG).’
My favourite saying is, “There are no devils left in hell… They are all in Rwanda” which was quoted by a missionary in TIME of May 2004. The quote proves how much Rwanda had lost its pride and dignity. One would take action from that.
Q: What is your message to Rwanda? A: Rwanda is a nation that is being blessed. I can freely say that it is where “God sleeps” just like our ancestors believed. With such a great opportunity, we should be motivated and encouraged to do more daily.
The message is, keep going ahead, Rwanda, and do not mind the silly misconceptions from around the world.
Q: What makes you laugh? A: Anything that can make me laugh. This is certainly something funny – and especially if its about me.