”If you want to hide something from African, hide it in a book,” I used to hear this phrase repeated so many times by my colleagues and one day I couldn’t take it any more! I quit my full-time job and with the little savings I had, I decided that I would do something about it!”
This is the story of Dominique Alonga, the founder of IMAGINE WE, publishing children’s books with local themes and characters to promote a reading culture. Dominique wanted to change the narrative of how the outside world viewed Africans and develop a reading culture among Africans especially children.
“It has been an exciting journey so far and the team and I have come a long way in implementing this vision!”
When IMAGINE WE started in 2015 the wanted to work directly with children; impacting their reading culture one child at a time. In order to do this, the setting up an open library in a community of low-income families was the first step to be done. The children would come to the library and spend their leisure time reading the books there. It had a real impact on the children; they enjoyed reading and for some, their school grades even improved.
“The children got to a point where they could not identify with the characters in the books. We could hear the children whispering to each other: ‘’Have you ever seen a person with yellow hair and blue eyes?,”“No, what is this?”“This is not true, these books are lying to us.”
So these youngsters started to ask themselves: What if it was possible for us to have books with characters they could identify with? What if we had a princess who got lost in a banana plantation and had hair and eyes just like their sisters or friends? What if instead of a castle we had a King’s hut? WHAT IF? These are characters and things they could identify with easily and even enjoy!
Dominique says that IMAGINE WE was re-birthed at that moment. They went back to the drawing board. At the time there were hardly any children books with local themes and characters. They had found their true calling.
“We would be the ones to develop this content”.
The community library has been closed and focus has bee shifted on developing children books with a massive touch of the Rwandan culture. Today IMAGINE WE published three children books with local themes and characters written by Rwandan authors including Dominique herself. Two of these books have been sold out and they had to re-print them. IMAGINE WE have a good collaboration with schools to host reading competitions and events and have gone back to setting up libraries in communities and hospitals in pediatric wards. They have recently set up a library in CHUK hospital in Kigali in the pediatric ward.
“Our work has impacted thousands of children and we hope to continue having more impact. Now as a registered publishing house we are excited to be part of a bigger vision: Telling African stories from the eyes of Africans themselves. It is truly liberating to tell our own stories instead of waiting for the outside wide to tell our own stories through their eyes.”
Recently a café has been opened within the books store that also functions as co-working place.