Faith, reason, and justice:” it is the mantra you cannot avoid when you are around or affiliated with Eastern University. Evan Hewitt, a 2011 Templeton Honors College graduate, has gone beyond taking this motto to heart. He is applying these principles to impact an entire nation.
The Intercollegiate Studies Institute announced Evan as the winner of the William E. Simon Fellowship for Noble Purpose. As ISI describes it, “The Simon Fellowship is a $40,000 unrestricted grant awarded to those graduating college seniors who have demonstrated passion, dedication, a high capacity for self-direction and originality in pursuit of a goal that will strengthen civil society.”
So how does this add up to changing a country? Easy. Evan is using the grant to build the first public library in Rwanda.
Rwanda is not unfamiliar with tragedy. Its people continue to rebuild their nation after the 1994 genocide. As a result, Rwanda is a third-world country making leaps and bounds towards becoming a first rate nation.
In 2010, Evan served as an intern in Rwanda. While he was there, he saw there a public school where nearly 1,000 students a day had to share a small pile of textbooks.
“Books are just expensive,” says Hewitt. In Rwanda, “they don’t have libraries, bookstores, or book presses. . . People are trying to buy food, water and firewood right now.” He explains that the country lacks a history of reading and writing—a tradition he believes is necessary for preserving the society Rwandans are trying to establish.
“They need books and we have books,” says Hewitt. With the library, his aim is “to take all the books that people are just throwing away or ignoring in the US and put them in a place where they’re going to be precious resources.”
Anglican Bishop Alexis Bilindabagado of the Gahini Village diocese has already donated a building to be used as the library. It is in close proximity to the diocese’s three schools, meaning that its 2,000 students, along with the general public, will be able to make use of the approximately 5,000 books Evan anticipates that the building will hold.
Since the building currently has tree branches for rafters, approximately half of the grant money will go towards repairing the roof. A quality roof is especially necessary to keep books protected during the region’s rainy season.
“I chose Gahini because it’s a solid village. . . [with an] intricate enough local economy that can support this library as an institution,” says Hewitt. “A lot of people don’t know the worth of books because it’s not a part of their culture. You need to give a library to those who know what they have and will take care of it.”
A committee composed of reverends, missionaries, school headmasters and headmistresses and businessmen plans to manage the library once it is in operation.
Hewitt notes that he is not currently looking to incorporate computers within his library, as there is not enough technological support available to keep computers running efficiently. He does hope to incorporate Kindles at some point. The audio capabilities will help students improve their English (declared the national language in 2008) and also enable blind students to make use of the library.
Book donations are coming in from as far away as California and Australia, yet as nearby as Eastern itself. “Not enough has been said regarding how much Eastern SIFE [Students in Free Enterprise] is doing for this cause,” Hewitt says, praising their involvement in book collecting.
The library is set to open its doors in January 2012. What was just recently a noble idea will soon become a reality that will speak to the ears, eyes and minds of Rwandan readers for generations to come.
For more information or to donate to the project, please visit gahinilibrary.org or contact Evan at