It was a project to combat book famine in Rwanda that brought doctoral student Simon Pierre Munyaneza to Indiana University. Munyaneza first saw the effect Books and Beyond had on schoolchildren as it distributed books to them, and has seen the program grow to training teachers, building playgrounds and giving out eyeglasses. He’s also seen himself grow, as he works to complete his doctoral studies in the Literacy, Culture and Language Education department. Munyaneza sees education not only as a core of his life, but also as one of the most important factors of the world.
“Education is the core of self-renewing. We cannot talk about development if education is not there. Education is the center of development,” he said.
It’s a concept his parents instilled in him from a very young age. Munyaneza remembers them asking him every day what he had studied that day and what he’d be studying tomorrow. Munyaneza lost his mother, father and a sibling during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. But their lessons remained with him.
“That continuity of saying, reinforcement, go to school, keep reading, keep studying, that helped me to get something inside me that never quit. It’s always there,” Munyaneza said. “I feel like I should go forward. That’s an internal drive that makes me go from one year to another one. I know it’s not easy but you overcome difficulties. You depend on the drivers inside you, not on the circumstances. Sometimes what is inside you may be bigger than what is surrounding you.”
He worked as a secondary and university teacher from 1999-2015. One of the biggest difficulties for teachers, he said, was the lack of books for students. Books and Beyond sought to solve that problem; ten years later, the organization has donated 20,000 books.
After his work as a teacher, Munyaneza decided to continue his studies. As part of his Ph.D., he is interested in knowledge transfer, especially from generation to generation and book to technology. One thing Munyaneza is quick to point out is how education never stops.
“If you have been at a school once, and you quit school, you continue to learn through experience,” he said. “When they give you knowledge, you never know where it will help you. It will help you to understand the current news, cultural change, economic growth. You will be able to situate yourself globally and locally. Because of what you studied, you’ll be able to connect the dots.”
Munyaneza is working to finish his Ph.D. in two years. After that, he hopes to open a learning center for students of all ages back in Rwanda – where he can share his love for education with those who need it.