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Junior coordinates book drive for Rwandan students

December 1, 2016
The Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda. The building in the forefront houses the dining services and Family Library. Photo credit: Ian Manzi '18.

When Ian Manzi ’18 went home to Rwanda this past summer to work at a boarding high school, he was struck by two things: the students were gifted, but they lacked the basic resources to master the English language.

Ian Manzi '18

Ian Manzi ’18

“As part of their curriculum, many of these students are introduced to English for the first time when they arrive at this school,” Manzi says, “and their zeal to learn and master the language has always impressed me. But they didn’t have proper English books for their level.”

Manzi hopes to solve that problem by coordinating an Amazon.com wish list of 77 books for the Family Library at Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwamagana, a city in Rwanda’s Eastern Province. The village’s 144 acres are home to youth who were orphaned during and after the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The wish list was created by Naomi Stanway, an American who serves as the school’s head librarian, based on suggestions from 400-plus students.

Anyone can order a book ranging between $5 and $10. Those ordered online will be sent to Stanway, currently in New Jersey, and she’ll bring them to Rwanda later this month. Those in Rochester with books can email Manzi, and he will arrange to pick them up.

Stanway asked the students to name any subjects they were interested in, or authors they’d heard of. The list includes biographies of Eleanor Roosevelt, Neil Armstrong, and Alexander the Great, romance novels by Nicholas Sparks, four coming-of-age novels, and 11 self-help and how-to books on leadership, business skills, success, happiness, and love.

“Most of the students there are orphans or underprivileged,” says Manzi, a data science major. “They love reading, but the books they have are too complex or more college level. These books are perfect for them.”

Youth village administrators ask school officials in every district to submit the names of gifted students who need support. There are more than 100 each in grades 9 through 12.

Students studying.

Students study at the Family Library at Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda. Photo credit: Ian Manzi ’18.

The national language of Rwanda is Kinyarwanda, but French and English are official languages. Manzi learned English in high school before heading to Rochester, where last spring he and Rwandan native Derrick Murekezi were named recipients of the Davis Projects for Peace award, a national program that promotes peace and intercultural understanding.

Manzi and Murekezi received a $10,000 grant to fund and operate a summer camp for young leaders in Rwanda last July, where campers reflected on the Rwandan genocide.

“Eventually, our camp merged with the youth village, and I got to know and work with these exceptional students,” says Manzi, who grew up in the Rwandan capital city of Kigali, two hours from the youth village.

Manzi says he hopes to keep the book project going in 2017 and plans to deliver more when he returns home next summer.

“I have a strong connection to the village,” he says. “It’s a magical place to be. They have a saying there: ‘You may not be in control of what has happened, but you are the one to write your future.’ They take this quite literally.’’

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