Shortly after landing in Rwanda last August to begin the next chapter of their lives, Frederick residents Melany and Corey Rabideau began exploring as much of the small country as they could.
There were volcanoes and lakes and forests and national parks with exotic wildlife, all within a country roughly the size of Maryland.
“Landscape wise, it is stunning,” Melany Rabideau said in a phone interview.
However, in listening to the students she teaches for the University of Global Health Equity, their experiences varied vastly.
For a number of reasons — including a genocide in 1994 that left many of them orphaned — most had not been to or explored much of the country beyond their local province.
“It made me think, ‘Wow! I need to check my privilege at the door because I am sitting here like a foreigner, acting like I have been to every inch of this country,’” said Rabideau, a Frederick High and University of Maryland graduate who now works as an associate professor for an organization that seeks to radically change the way health care is delivered around the world. The organization holds a specific focus on marginalized and underserved communities.
Through these conversations, Rabideau saw an opportunity to show Rwandan children what lies beyond their provincial borders, and it also tied in with the leadership skills she was trying to impart.
So, as a first-time author, she partnered with a Rwandan illustrator and translator and produced a series of five short stories entitled “Little Readers and Leaders Rwanda.”
The stories will be self-published through Amazon in a series of five books that will be released both digitally and in print over a period of successive months. Rabideau hopes the book speaks to a worldwide audience through the publishing platform, not just the residents of Rwanda.
“Worst case, you learn about Rwanda. Best case, you learn about Rwanda and also take away leadership lessons that are applicable to you,” she said.
There is a story about a leaf using help from an ant, the wind and a stone to get to the top of a volcano, meant to convey the power of teamwork to achieve a common goal. Another story uses a bee and a flower to show how processes can be improved.
The stories are brought to life visually through the illustrations of Dolph Banza, the son of a Rwandan auto mechanic who turned his early drawings of cars into a career as an illustrator and graphic designer.
“It’s good to create something that will make people think more, create more and know more,” said Banza, who didn’t spend much time out of his province until he was 16 years old.
Rabideau hopes to raise enough money through the project to get printed copies of the book in the hands of as many Rwandan children as possible. That is a serious challenge considering Amazon does not deliver in the country. Any additional money will be reinvested into the project with the hope of one day expanding it beyond Rwanda.
She hopes the stories will allow children to see potential in themselves, through characters that talk, look and live in places like they do.
While the stories may be tailored for Rwandan children, they are applicable to children all over the world, the author said.