WILLIAMSTOWN, Massachusetts – The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has successfully increased childhood literacy in Rwanda over the past five years through a partnership with the Government of Rwanda. USAID’s program Mureke Dusome or “Let’s Read,” was a five-year, $10.8 million program that started in 2016. Upon the recent conclusion of the program on June 25, 2021, “Let’s Read” garnered significant praise. The program will continue to impact Rwanda by promoting a reading culture.
Mureke Dusome has flourished thanks to USAID’s partnership with the Government of Rwanda, which has utilized the assistance of local non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Some of the assistance comes from Save the Children Rwanda and Umuhuza, which are both based in the nation’s capital, Kigali.
Mureke Dusome targeted a crucial geographic region, as literacy rates in Sub-Saharan Africa have consistently lagged worldwide averages. Today, around 65% of people ages 15 and above are literate in Sub-Saharan Africa which is below the world literacy rate, which sits at 86.3% in 2021.
Rwanda’s literacy rate has climbed steadily over the past several decades. Back in 1991, only 58% of the population older than 15 were literate. However, this figure has ticked up to 73% in 2018 while the nation’s reading culture continues to grow thanks to foreign aid efforts and initiatives.
USAID’s Mureke Dusome program aimed to foster partnerships between schools and communities to improve literacy outcomes for Rwandan children.
A 2015 survey found that only 9% of Rwandan parents reported having ever read a story to their child. More than half of the parents surveyed thought their child’s teacher was solely responsible for their education and reading ability. In addition, access to Kinyarwanda storybooks was incredibly sparse. Only 2% of Rwandan households reported access to books for children in their primary language.
Over the past five years, the program has educated both school leaders and parents while creating partnerships between schools and communities. The partnerships have increased the quality and access of education for Rwandan children.
The program also supported authors, illustrators and publishers while aiming to increase the production of high-quality Kinyarwanda children’s books.
Five years later, Mureke Dusome has found measurable, tangible success that has positively impacted literacy in Rwanda.
More than 800,00 parents attended community gatherings through the program, and more than 900,000 children have accessed reading activities in their communities over the past five years. In addition, the program helped to establish 2,500 reading clubs across every district in Rwanda. The clubs met at least twice per week and offered opportunities for students to practice reading outside of school hours. The nation has seen dramatic increases in the proportion of students reaching childhood reading benchmarks, especially in students involved in afterschool reading programs.
The proportion of parents who encourage reading in their homes has increased from 59% in 2016 to 78% in 2020. In a similar fashion, children’s access to books increased from 19% in 2016 to 31% in 2018.
The Mureke Dusome program has also created a boom in the children’s book industry. The program helped create more than 900 unique Kinyarwanda children’s titles with 430,000 copies in circulation across Rwanda. The books include braille copies and many titles with gender and inclusion messaging. The program has also emphasized access and representation for children with disabilities.
While Mureke Dusome concluded in June 2021, the program’s impact will continue long into the future. The Rwandan Honorable Minister of State in charge of Primary and Secondary Education, Gaspard Twagirayezu stated that “we shall continue to reinforce the culture of reading for our children. We also need to ensure that the efforts made by Mureke Dusome are maintained.” The USAID’s dedication to improving literacy in Rwanda and the successful execution of the Mureke Dusome program show the power of foreign aid and the power of dedicating resources to education in underserved areas.
– Sam Dils