Seraphin Niyonsenga lived in Davis, California, in 2016 as a Fulbright Exchange Fellow. On his morning runs, he passed by Little Free Library book boxes and they caught his attention. He realized that the Little Free Library model could be an aswer to bridging the literacy gap in his home country of Rwanda, where the cost of establishing and maintaining a conventional library is high.

Pictured above: Seraphin Niyonsenga at the grand opening of his Little Free Library in Kigali, Rwanda.

Fast forward to 2020. Seraphin is back in Kigali, Rwanda, and the Covid-19 pandemic strikes. “That’s what prompted me to build the Little Free Library in my neighborhood. Schools were closed and kids were left without anything to keep them busy,” he says. We asked Seraphin to share his experience and advice in this steward spotlight post.

What challenges did you overcome to start a Little Free Library?

I started out with my own books and those of my kids, but I needed more. I approached some friends to talk about the idea. I got support from a local partners like Mudacumura Publishing House, the Save the Children organization, the Kigali Public Library, and some U.S. citizens who donated books. Among the people who donated are Little Free Library stewards like Debbie Huff, who shipped books from Virginia, and a steward named Wandi who travelled with a suitcase of baby books all the way from Atlanta, Georgia!

So far I keep the library stocked with books; most people are not yet bringing their own books to for others to borrow. I do love seeing the kids come in big numbers to borrow and return books.

What surprised you the most since starting a Little Free Library?

When we started our Little Free Library, everyone was asking how we will get the books to be returned. Some predicted that the Little Free Library concept wouldn’t work here. But we gave it a try and started sharing books with kids, and we were surprised to see the kids returned the books. We saw other people and organizations volunteering to donate books to us, too. That was a great encouragement.

Do you have any advice for others thinking of starting a Little Free Library in their communities?

The benefits of opening a Little Free Library are enormous. For me, it is a way to connect with the community. People, and especially children, are grateful. A book is a tool that brings people together. It makes me happy when I see kids flocking to my Little Free Library. I am encouraged to open more little libraries to contribute to ending book hunger in my country!

Learn how to start a Little Free Library in your community, or get inspired by more stories in the steward spotlight series.

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