Isaro Foundation Ranks Number 5 among 20 Most Successful Nonprofits Started by Students in the United States of America
Jean-Léon Iragena – a 22 year old a Millsaps College (USA) student and holder of Rwandan Presidential Scholarship – founded Isaro Foundation on October 15, 2011 with the main goal of promoting reading and writing skills in Rwanda. This he did by collecting books in America and shipping them to schools back in Rwanda.
In less than a year, Isaro Foundation has changed the lives of Rwandans in different ways: more than 4,000 printed books, 10,000 electronic books on 30 Kindles (e-reading devices) have been donated to students and schools; 30 teachers from all districts in Rwanda have been trained to use Kindles, and around 15 reading and writing clubs were created in schools.
According to Ken Blackwell, the chairman of the foundation, they realized that the cost of shipping books alone exceeds the cost of buying them, and thus resorted to sending Kindles – a device that can carry up to 300 books. On a single charge, the device’s battery can last up to 2 months.
“I’m an engineer and I believe in technology,” he told cheering students of Ecole Agri-Vétérinaire (EAV) Bigogwe in early July 2012 while inaugurating an electronic library (or e-Library) based on the Amazon Kindle. He was holding a Kindle of the 1st generation. A month earlier, Isaro Foundation had been endorsed by Sports and Culture Minister Protais Mitali and given a permanent office in Kigali Public Library in Kacyiru on June 30, 2012.
More than Frw 35 million ($55,000) has been spent on all these activities.
On October 22, the non-profit organization made it to the top 5 most successful students’ non-profits in the United States of America. The news was released by a United States organization called OnlineCollege – an organization that aims to enhance American students’ success in the real world both in school and in extra curricula activities.
“This success is proof that the Rwandan youth is empowered and capable of coming up with creative initiatives that can solve some problems and challenges in Rwanda. It is also a lesson that unity makes strength,” Iragena told The Rwanda Focus in an email. “This victory is about all Rwandan students and other people who compose this organization; we worked together, we are working together and we will keep working together to even succeed at higher levels. We want Rwandan students to get the opportunity to read and write. It is very valuable to us.”
Following is the interview that The Rwanda Focus had with Iragena following the announcement of the top-five status.
What are you going to do now that you’ve hit top-five status? Plans?
As it has always been our motive, we are going to continue to shape Rwandans reading and writing skills, of course, at a larger scale now. We expect our means and strength to boost.
What does this mean for some of the beneficiaries?
This means that Isaro Foundation is one of the non-profit organizations that stand high in the world. It does not matter how old we are; it matters what we are doing. The world has been watching and appreciating what we have been doing in Rwanda. I and my team were highly surprised and impressed of this honor we have been offered this early, but we welcome it and are humbled by it. This is most importantly an encouragement and recognition towards our efforts and activities in fighting illiteracy in Rwanda. It is also a good thing about the image of Rwanda not only in the United States, but also in the whole world.
What are the other organizations in the top five?
There’s Food Recovery Network, Jewish Disaster Response Corps, Signature Donations and Kicking 4 Hunger.We were chose among“20 Successful Non-profits Started by Students” in the USA.
What criteria were used in ranking these non-profit organizations?
The criterion is that the founder or founders of the organization has or have to be a student(s) in the United States of America. Isaro Foundation beats the records that no other Rwandan non-profit has done before.
I also think that they look at what the organization is doing; its credibility and effectiveness in the community. They also look at how people are willing to commit themselves to the organization. Most importantly, they look at the financial records of the organization, how is the organization using the money it has to achieve its goals.
Do you plan to return to Rwanda some day?
As any Rwandan who loves his country, yes I want to come back – and come back soon. My dream is to see Rwanda making a difference in the world. Our current leadership has been doing a good job on that; there is a need for the willingness of all Rwandans to continue this path the nation has taken. That is where the need of everyone, including me, is unquestionable. As soon as I am done with school, I will return to Rwanda and join other Rwandans’ efforts in the reconstruction of my country.
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