WGBH’s Stephanie Leydon introduces us to two new Greater Bostonian.  These two men hope to influence the evolution of a country with something many of us would be delighted to donate.

Children in Rwanda typically don’t start school until age seven, and even then might not so much as touch a book. Parfait Gasana was born in a refugee camp. His parents fled the 1994  Rwandan genocide that left an estimated 800,000  people dead.

“illiteracy contributed to some degree to the negative history that took place,” said Gasana. “The genocide that took place where the old regime was able to influence people who have no educational background basically.”

English is now one of Rwanda’s official languages and Parfait sees picture books as powerful teaching tools.  “I read Curious George.  I’m going to be honest here.  I didn’t know English -you could see signs, you could see what he was doing”

It’s how he learned English when he arrived in the U.S. at age twenty-three. He then went on to UMass Boston where he earned a Masters Degree in International Relations, and teamed up with a fellow student to launch a plan to get books to children in Rwanda.

Wade Cedar grew up in Newburyport, a world away from Rwanda.  But like Parfait, grew up without a permanent home, living at one point in the family minivan. “I found education to be my outlet as well.  So when he said he wanted to do something to give these children an opportunity - I couldn’t turn it down”

They found an early ally in UMass Boston Dean Ira Jackson. Parfait and Wade landed in Rwanda's capital city, Kigali last summer with their bags filled with books. They set up the Kigali Reading Center, where kids gather for songs and stories and they can borrow books to take home.

“We had droves of children running down the street barefoot because we were handing out books out of a backpack. And endless, endless children calling out to more friends.  They just kept coming. We ran out of books we didn’t have enough. It was amazing,” said Cedar.

Books changed Parfait and Wade’s lives, and they believe they can do the same for Rwanda. The Kigali Reading Center now has thousands of books, and more are on the way.

“We hope that we’re planting a seed in human capital,” said Cedar. “Once we give these children the tools, they teach the next generation.”