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  • Jean de Dieu Dusingize

Guest Post: International Mother Language Day at Umubano Primary School

As the world celebrates International Mother Language Day on 21st February, the theme of ‘Linguistic diversity and multilingualism: keystones of sustainability and peace’ will be discussed. This theme reminds me about how happy I always feel when I look at the beauty of differences. As the mixture of different types of flowers makes the garden beautiful, so linguistic diversity makes the world beautiful. A world where all people speak only one and the same language would be an uninteresting world to live in.

Children wrote their own stories in Kinyarwanda to celebrate International Mother Language Day

The importance of this day becomes even more significant as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) warns that some languages will disappear if strong measures are not taken. Kinyarwanda, Rwanda’s mother tongue, was listed by UNESCO among these languages in danger. The world in general should feel ashamed if any language dies. Losing a language is also losing the beauty of the world. When a language passes away, it takes with it people’s culture, beliefs, traditional values… and they remain without an identity. Therefore, everyone needs to promote and protect multilingualism.

To celebrate International Mother Language Day, our students took part in different activities including storytelling, story writing, reading, making posters and discussion on the topic of the day. All of these activities were carried out in the children’s mother tongue; Kinyarwanda.

Umubano Primary School students show Rwandan culture: Mother Language is more than an instrument for communication

I see Umubano Primary School as a beautiful working place not only because of its good working conditions, but also because it is a multilingual community. Kinyarwanda, which is the mother tongue of many of our students and staff, is valued as the vehicle of knowledge and culture, but we also value other languages which take their roots in students’ mastery of Kinyarwanda. This makes our students as fluent in English as in Kinyarwanda. Having a good foundation of Kinyarwanda also allows our students to learn a third language of French.

Have you ever wondered how you would feel if your mother language disappeared?

A student at Umubano Primary school said: “If my mother language disappears, I would feel a very big loss because I would no more be able to express all my feelings freely as I always do it.”

Being in the world where we can’t express all our feelings would be the highest level of human rights deprivation. This is why preventing mother languages from disappearing is everyone’s role, from individuals, governments, civil societies, the international community…

At Umubano Primary School we believe that our role in protecting Kinyarwanda is teaching it from early years. Teachers read stories to nursery children and children are also taught to tell their own stories in Kinyarwanda. From the beginning of this new term, primary students have also been encouraged to write stories in Kinyarwanda, with awards going to the best stories. It is also our role as a school to involve parents in our plan to protect our mother tongue. In parents’ training at school, parents were happy with our students’ level of English and we agreed with them that the children’s mother tongue of Kinyarwanda must be developed and supported on both sides, starting from home. Parents were encouraged to spend time talking to their children in their mother tongue and to find time to read simple Kinyarwanda books together. Homes are the best schools of mother languages as children learn in real life situations.

Students discussed the theme of the day

Preserving mother tongues must not be a barrier to learning other languages. However, learning other languages becomes very easy for people who master their mother tongue well. Valuing Kinyarwanda gives Umubano Primary School the tools to encourage our learners to learn and become fluent in English. Students also enjoy studying in French lessons. We promote multilingualism because our students are not only citizens of Rwanda, but are global citizens. Learning other languages is a method of intercultural and living peacefully together with others.

Students enjoy reading Kinyarwanda books on Library for All

As a conclusion, I would say that preventing our mother languages from disappearing is a pillar to sustaining multilingualism and to develop this culture. Being multilingual also leads to becoming a global citizen. To be able to implement global citizenship, we will be implementing peace values which will lead to sustainable peace.

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