I love social media. These days that’s where I catch all my news. A daily swipe on my Twitter timeline and I can gather quite a bit of information. When I want to know what’s going on in Rwanda, I track my favorite hashtag #RwOT (Rwandan on Twitter) and in, flood the news. Rwanda is a country full of happenings, between significant investments deals being signed, a host of international conferences taking place in Kigali, showy observance of international holidays, hotels being launched, there is no shortage of good news to report.
Once in awhile though, something out of the ordinary shows up on my timeline. Special news that gives me a whole new reason to smile about Rwanda and appreciate just how much the country is evolving. This past September, this particular feeling arose when I saw that a former Miss Rwanda 2015 contestant was launching her first children’s book ‘Oh Rwandan Child’. The Rwandan Twittersphere followed the countdown and outpour of support was shown on screen. I witnessed the countdown unfold, not weighing in, knowing I wouldn't be able to attend the launch but with a mental note to buy copies of the book for my nieces.
No sooner could I get over this awesome news did a friend of mine casually announce through a social media post the pride she felt at seeing her first children's book ‘Nayima’s Prize’ on the shelf of a local book store. A simple post to announce her pride and joy, as in no big deal...
As I woke up to the second news, mouth gaping, I started thinking: what does it take to become an author of children's book and what has inspired these two ladies (seemingly unrelated) to write a book and release it days apart. My curiosity got the best of me so I set out to get the answers.
I approached Sandrine Umutoni first and presented my case. I told her this type of news was too exciting to pass up and I had to share with the world. She kindly accepted.
Here is my Q&A with Sandrine:
This book came as a surprise to many, why did you opt for a quiet release?
This being my first children’s book, I wanted to see first how people in my social and professional circles received the book before deciding whether or not I should have a more public release.
What is your passion?
I’m passionate about culture. To me there is nothing more exciting than learning about my culture and others’, through conversation with my elders, the arts, literature, travel, etc. I feel there is so much to discover about mankind and how we can relate to one another, through a better understanding of each other’s cultural background.
What was your favorite topic in school?
I always enjoyed social studies and arts, but if I had to pick one topic I’d say history.
What inspired you to get into children’s literature?
Last year I had the opportunity to work with the Rwandan Children’s Book Initiative (RCBI) – a project of Save The Children. I really enjoyed speaking to writers, publishers, illustrators, and the editors who worked on enriching the children’s book industry here in Rwanda. This is a very interesting industry and as someone who has always enjoyed reading, writing and working with children I decided to give it a try and write my first children’s story, with the great support of SBD Publishers and Inkstain illustrators.
What were some of your favorite books as a child?
Like most kids, I enjoyed reading comic books (with stories about detectives, adventures, sci-fi, historical characters, etc.) but felt more attracted to fables and folktales. In retrospect, I think I was more attracted to these two genres because they offered an insight into various cultures, their customs, their taboos, etc.
What’s the inspiration behind Nayima’s Prize?
This story is inspired by the new generation of children in my family and the pride I would like to see in them, learning about our country, and our continent. As someone who truly values cultural awareness, I want to see more of our children take a greater interest in their origins/roots; but also see them gain a better understanding of who they are in this world.
What are some challenges you encountered in completing the book, from concept to publication?
As a first time children’s book writer, I had to make sure the story was going to be relatable to the public it was meant for. From the storyline to the illustrations, I wanted to highlight a number of things I thought were important for a young audience, at that impressionable age.
How would you describe the creative space for young females in Rwanda?
Although there is a need for more resources to nurture the creative abilities of both young male and female artists, I think the creative space here has a lot of potential, for artistic education, training, and exploring how our traditional art forms can be fused with other contemporary forms of artistic expression (whether national or international). Also, I think that living in a country like Rwanda, that truly believes in/supports gender equality, women can venture into the space (of their choice) they see fit for their own development and professional growth.
Our local creative scene has some very talented women who are making a name for themselves in theatre, music, literature and poetry, fashion, etc. These women are inspiring the next generations of female Rwandans who will make our creative space even more vibrant.
Are there more books in store for you?
aKomanet is a platform for Africa storytellers, how do you think children’s literature can contribute to “telling the African story”?
Growing up in a francophone African country, the schools I attended focused first on the literature by French/European writers. The responsibility to expose my sisters and me to other genres, and authors of non-European background, was therefore left to my parents.
This is why I believe that promoting children’s literature with stories from the continent — and its diaspora —by authors coming from these regions, will definitely help our younger generations become more grounded in their identity, and in their own time, they too will feel more comfortable sharing their own stories.
Lastly, where can Nayima’s Prize be purchased?
For now, the book is available at School Books Distributors (SBD) Publishers, located on (KN5) in Remera.
Soon, the book will also be available for purchase in other bookstores in Kigali. I’m hoping to see more bookstores, in Rwanda, and outside, carry this book in the near future.
If you ever come across Sandrine you'll be touched by her sweet-spirit and infectious smile. She is very passionate and knows how to express herself beautifully; written and spoken. I get the feeling she doesn’t get just how many people she touched with this project. To comment on answer #1, rest assured Sandrine; we are receiving your latest project really well and are quite inspired by it. Way to carry the torch for the future generation. Kudos!
Stay tuned for Part 2 with Miss Peace Kwizera…