Nancy Uslan, NEU Global Founder and President, expected to marvel at the endangered mountain gorillas when she traveled to Rwanda in 2005 with famed American activist, Jack Hanna, and his film crew. What she could not predict was that she would fall in love with the country and its people, who had encountered a horrific genocide only eleven years earlier.
What she did know was that she had to help Rwanda in its recovery process. She settled on her first initiative to promote the English language — not just because English is a critical language in the global economy, but because it had recently become Rwanda’s official language while only a few Rwandans could read, write, or speak it. Understanding that children learn more authentically when they are taught by other children, Nancy envisioned a program whereby American students would participate in an education-based service learning project that would benefit themselves as well as students in Rwanda.
So came the birth of the Books & Beyond (B&B) project at her alma mater, Indiana University. American B&B student participants wrote and illustrated original English-language books, which were then published in Rwanda and distributed to primary school students in a rural mountain village. Since Rwandan children typically do not own a single book, the English book created by the American B&B student participants was the first book they ever owned. The B&B project’s success led to the expansion and development of other Rwandan-focused programming at Indiana University.
Seeing the success of the B&B project, Nancy decided to duplicate the model through her non-profit organization's literacy initiative, Books and Beyond USA. The decision was made to reproduce the template in order to increase the number of American schools creating books and to increase the number of Rwandan schools receiving books. To date, thousands of students in the US and abroad have had their personal pathways changed as a result of BBUSA's unique programming.