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The Blog - Umuganda: Rwanda’s community work culture.

Umuganda: Rwanda’s community work culture.

Author: Owen, 2015-05-13 .

On being listed as the third most greenest country in the world by the World Travel Guide, Yamina Karitanyi, head of Tourism and Conservation at Rwanda Development Board, had a word of advice for anyone planning on visiting Rwanda any time soon.

“If you’re visiting Rwanda on the last Saturday of the month, then you better pack a litter picker. Why? Because your trip will coincide with Umuganda (Community work), a day of national housekeeping when every citizen goes out to clean the country,” Yamina said.

Unique to Rwanda, Umuganda is a national tradition where all self interest is put aside on the last Saturday of the month and citizens of all walks of life gather for the good of their society.

Beginning 8AM to midday, every last Saturday of the month, Rwandans gather in cells, -small administrative groupings- and pick a task that will be of common benefit to them.

Tasks range from clean-up exercises to infrastructure repair (eg bridges, schools) to social welfare projects such as building houses for the elderly.

Between these four hours, all differences that may exist between community members take a second row and a community development effort prevails.

It is at such times when considerations of how much one is worth or how fancy his car is no longer a consideration as everyone gets their hands dirty.

Not even the president is exempted from community work; he too shows up, folds his sleeves, picks a tool and gets his hands dirty.

The concept of Umuganda was conceived for multiple purposes, amongst them encouraging citizens to take on national development themselves.

At the end of the task, community members sit to deliberate issues they would want to iron out or matters that might be troubling them.

The home grown solution that was tailored as per the community’s needs and targets has provided a way to have all citizens take part in contributing to the progress, that way no one would be bent on undoing what was being built.

Over the years, it has fast become a measure of patriotism as citizens need not be reminded of their duty to the nation.

Rather than wait on the government to hand the ‘development’ on a silver platter, millions head out to be part of the change they want to see.

The tradition can also be credited for the social cohesion in today’s Rwandan society, by working together; community members establish ties and relationships leading them to become their brother’s keeper.

“If you work alongside someone to develop the nation, you are less likely to have ill motives towards them,” most Rwandans will tell you.

The tradition has since been spread to other countries courtesy of Rwandans emigrating or working abroad. From Rwandans serving in peace keeping missions to International students, the tradition is slowly reaching to numerous countries.

You may have heard tale of Umuganda and its ability to contribute to the social cohesion and build ties amongst Rwandan, but to believe it you have to see it for yourself; it might rub on you too.


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