At 24 years, Dominique Uwase Alonga is the founder and CEO of Imagine We Rwanda, a publishing company which has the vision to promote the reading and creative writing culture in Rwanda. She has authored the book, ‘The ABCs of Rwanda’ that inspires a different narrative on Rwanda and Africa as a whole as it encourages a more vibrant and fun reading culture. She spoke to The Service Mag (TSM) about her journey as an author.
TSM: How do you influence change within your community?
ALONGA: We are showing people that they can enjoy reading beyond their educational reasons. We see our books not just as educational but as fun, fearless and as gifts. We’ve been equipping schools and small organizations with books from all over the world. There are children who would love to read if the books are introduced to them. We are making books more accessible to Rwandans by establishing small libraries and reading spaces in communities and hospitals. We are collaborating with various people to do book readings and signing. We are also opening up small libraries in the pediatric wards of five underprivileged hospitals around Kigali starting this Easter season.
TSM: Why should we change the Rwandan/ African narrative?
ALONGA: I have always been bothered by the fact that, internationally, we are known as the darkest continent, the poorest, the most unstable, you name it. What bothered me the most is the fact that we are often labeled ignorant, the reason for this is that there is someone out there sharing our African stories and that someone is not African. I decided to stop complaining about this and become part of the solution.
TSM: What has challenged this?
Alonga: Our culture has always been oral, which is a great thing. I love the bonding that happens when a parent is telling their child a story. And this is what Rwandans are used to. We love the radio and we love audio stories. However, this way, we narrow our reach and perspective. This means that we will be limited to the stories that people near us are able to tell. The challenge for Imagine We is to introduce a new way. We are trying to tell people that the reading culture is not a threat to our oral tradition. Of course, new things are always hard to adapt to and they take time but we are pushing and the reception is great.
TSM: Has the ‘ABCs of Rwanda’ book been embraced by people?
ALONGA: The ABCs has been amazing. The ‘Oh Rwandan Child’ book paved the way for this book. We learned from the challenges in marketing as we moved door-to-door and it paved the way for our second book. When we e-launched the ABC’s of Rwanda, 95 books were sold within 12 days. Over 200 books have sold by February as we now sell at various points like restaurants, coffee shops, Casa Keza, the Kigali International Airport, Uzuri K&Y at Kigali Heights among other places. By using a lot of Social Media marketing, we are getting wider exposure. The society is backing us up. ‘The ABCs of Rwanda’ book is lifting up ‘Oh Rwandan Child’ but also because of Oh Rwandan Child, this book is well known. Also, it is being read by foreigners to learn more about Rwanda.
TSM: Tell us more about the ‘Imagine We’ bash?
ALONGA: The ‘Imagine We’ Bash is an annual fundraising platform organised every February to raise awareness about the books we publish. It started in 2016 where over 150 people attended and this included the entire community of supporters of all ages. We are calling it a ‘Friendraising’, and we want people to know about us and that their stories can get somewhere.
TSM: What has motivated you along this journey?
ALONGA: I wrote my first book when I was thirteen years at FAWE Girls School. I used to write a five-page story, circulate it around the school and I would get it back after a month, or a few weeks before I could write another five pages to circulate again. It was a fun experience but unfortunately when I completed the book, while at university, it was stolen. The story was a dramatic soap opera in an African setting.
Where do you derive our inspiration?
ALONGA: When I find a good new artist, author, musician or even an Instagram person who captures life with a new perspective. My family makes me happy especially when I spend time with my mom, brother and sister.
What is your message for the Rwandan youth?
ALONGA: Start now! I believe every dream has a start. If you are really serious about your dream, start talking about it to as many people as you can. The more you talk about it, the more it gets real. Rwandans are sometimes told, ‘If you have a dream, keep quiet about it, work in silence and one day when its big, you can talk about it.’ Don’t look down upon your dream, even when it’s hard because when it is really your dream, you will have the strength to push for it.
What do you enjoy doing? “I love church and doing ministry because growing spiritually is something I value. I play a few instruments like the guitar and piano and I enjoy taking walks and hanging out with friends.
When are you happiest? “I love paintings and I love words. I love word playing and that’s why my favourite movie is Sherlock Holmes. If you don’t catch the sentences, you won’t get the whole story.
What kind of music do you love listening to? “I love songs that are about lost love, when someone is heartbroken and they learn something new and then come out of it. The song written on that journey is hopeful but also sad.
What makes you sad? “When someone loses themselves in arrogance. When they are so arrogant that they cannot be open to other people’s ideas, but their ideas suck, but they can’t see that because they don’t want to move out of it because of arrogance. This is sad when it is young people who think they are much higher than others and cannot work with new ideas.
There are a lot of trust issues too. If you are too open as a Rwandan, you are tagged as someone foreign which makes it hard to fit in with certain people. People should be more open to trusting others’ opinions and stance in life, because these can be learning experiences. We should seek to understand before being understood.
Favorite drink and dish? “I love drinking milk, flavoured yoghurt especially from Masaka Farms. And I love anything pasta with cheese and chocolate.”
What’s the craziest thing you’ve done? I did sneak into the Kigali Public Library before it was open to the public—it was about 70% complete. And also, I was jailed in 2010 for a good cause. With a group of PLP members we were trying to raise money for orphans and we spelt the name of the orphanage wrong. We only wrote ‘Niboye’ instead of ‘Niboye Peace Village’ and we were jailed for 3 hours because the Executive leader of that neighbourhood then thought we were crooks trying to run a project that he didn’t know about.
By Gloria A. Iribagiza