Meet the Girl behind the book that kicked the first ball of the USAID's EGRP.

A couple of weeks ago, at the launch of USAID’s Early Grade Reading Project in Kigali, a book, referred to as one of the ideal children’s books which are going to be distributed in all primary schools, was handed to the headteacher of Groupe Scolaire Kinyinya. Neither the book title nor the author was mentioned but the majority of  the crowd at the event could recognize the book, and others couldn’t wait the ceremony to get concluded so that they move closer to the headteacher to see what the book was.

It was ‘Uruhimbi rwa Nyanka’, written by Umuhuza Denyse, illustrated by Capucine Mazille, and published by Bakame Editions.

Photo: a courtesy of Bakame Editions.

A 20 years old girl, whose first publication is making history only months after it is published, has undoubtedly got a story to tell the world.

When i asked her to tell me about herself, this young Rwandan girl with a burning passion for storytelling proudly told me that she has found a place for herself in children’s literature, and added that she is honored to be called an author of children’s books. She has currently one book published, originally in Kinyarwanda under the title “Uruhimbi rwa Nyanka” with translated versions in English and French; “The Secret of Nyanka” and “Le Secret de Nyanka” respectively.

  • When did you feel you can write for the first time?

That’s one of the most intriguing questions I ever get because I can’t remember when exactly I started writing. However, I do remember that when I was in P6 I always had very short stories I wrote on small papers and gave them to my classmates. They would read them and laugh because they found them fun and funny, and of course I would laugh too. At that time, I didn’t know that one day I could stand and present myself as an “author”.

  • Tell us about your book ‘Uruhimbi rwa Nyanka’; what is the message, and what was the inspiration?

“Uruhimbi rwa Nyanka” is my first published book. I call it my first baby, but it is not the first I ever wrote. I wrote this book to demonstrate that the uniqueness each of us has got is meant to make the world a better place. I have four siblings, with whom I fought often, and I studied in a boarding school for six years. This enabled me to realize one simple but crucial thing. The diverse society I lived in, the diversity that we all live in becomes more exciting, fun and productive when we embrace our uniqueness. With my passion of storytelling, I believed that “Uruhimbi rwa Nyanka” would convey that message much better instead of keeping it in an inaccessible corner of my mind. When I wrote it, I showed it to a colleague, and she said, “Wow! This is gorgeous.”, and I was like, “Why not take this to another level.” I then approached Bakame Editions, and here is the outcome; the book is published. ‘Uruhimbi’ is normally a place where Rwandans keep milk, and ‘Nyanka’ is from “inka” which means cow. The wise young girl Nyanka as a character in this book would mean “the cow’s owner”, and cows are a sign of wealth in the Rwandan culture. In the context of my book, Nyanka’s wealth is her knowledge that she shares with other animals of the world.

  • How did you come up with such innovative names for characters in your book ‘Uruhimbi rwa Nyanka?

Hahaha. Thanks for saying that it is innovation. I appreciate. The names I gave to characters, especially the animals, refer to their physical appearance to help kids get the idea of how these characters look like. For example, I named the lion "Ntare Mugara" which literally means "Lion, The Mane". Ideally, I wanted children to draw a picture of this specific animal, and hence feel more connected to the story scenarios.  

  • At the launch of your book ‘Uruhimbi rwa Nyanka’ children were thrilled with your performance. Was that your first time to perform live for children? What was your feeling being surrounded with children excitedly listening to your story?

I would say yes and no because I usually read for my younger brothers, and yes because it was my first time to perform live for children in a public event (Which I really enjoyed by the way). Looking at the kids around me, responding to me with their sweet voices, their innocent attentive faces and the sparkle in their eyes, I felt useful and proud. I felt that I was kind of creating a movement of union in diversity at the same time enabling the children to have fun, because I know that having fun was one of the things I needed the most at their age.

Umuhuza Denyse entertains children at the launch of her book 'Uruhimbi rwa Nyanka'. (A courtesy of Bakame Editions)

  • Recently at the launch of USAID’s Early Grade Reading Project, your book ‘Uruhimbi rwa Nyanka’ was handed to the headteacher of G.S. Kinyinya as one of the ideal children's books which are going to be distributed in primary schools' libraries. What is your take on that?

Hahahaha! What do you think? I was not at the event but when the news reached me, I was thrilled, excited. I am an author, but I struggle to find the exact term to express the feeling I got, but I was just happy. When I first started writing I felt an inferiority complex to see myself in an environment of older authors, but this special incident showed me that my work is being propelled to another level, and no more complex. Instead, I set big plans for the future.

The headteacher of G.S. Kinyinya (right) poses with Agnes (Bakame Editions's founder) after the USAID's Early Grade Reading Project launch. (Photo by Isaie Micomyiza)

  • What do you hope to achieve with your writing talent?

It’s quite ambitious, but I believe and I hope to change the world, one child at a time. I hope to make a smarter Rwanda, a more informed Africa starting from the young generation. I would rather say starting from the baby generation, because they are at the core center of where we want to see our community in the future.

  • What projects are you currently working on?

There are many stories to tell, children are somewhere waiting for a great fun and inspirational book, and publishers are welcoming. You can guess my projects. I am working on other books and I currently have one more book entitled “Kalisa wa Munyentamati” to be released soon by Bakame Editions. I hope to see it touch the heart of many children more than the first book did. So, parents and instructors should plan to get some copies of the book once it will be out.

  • What would you say about the book industry in Rwanda?

It is a growing and prosperous industry because new publishing houses are being initiated, which gives me hope as an author. It’s an encouraging environment for authors, and I would also say that it gives a larger platform to express our ideas. So fellow authors, we are lucky! My message to potential writers, is “Where are you?! Come on, join the club.”

  • Are there some African authors who inspire you?

Oh, there is a crowd of them, because I am a big fan of reading, especially the African literature. I am a big fan of Chimamanda Ngozi, and her books. “The Thing Around Your Neck” and “We should all be Feminists” are one of the kind that I call juicy or just sweethearts because they inspire me and I can’t get enough.

'Uruhimbi rwa Nyanka' was launched at the  Children's Book Party organised by Bakame Editions.


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