This is Rohita Javangula speaking from Kigali, Rwanda. I’m currently studying Post-Genocide Restoration and Peace Building through SIT. This weekend we were introduced to our host family. Mine consists of two parents (Agnes and Claude) and their five kids ranging in age from 5-21. Yesterday, Saturday August 31st was Umuganda. The Kinyarwandan word for community, Umuganda takes place on the last Saturday of each month. Every citizen over the age of 18 participates in community service, cleaning up the city or building roads and such. This concept is so novel to me. I’m blown away by the willingness of every individual, with no incentive or fear of punishment, to commit their Saturday mornings to the betterment of the community.
The Umuganda I attended was a little different. Instead of cleaning or building, the village gathered for a community meeting to discuss concerns, problems, and the future of the village.
*Quick note: This isn’t a village in the traditional sense of the word, but rather a sector within a neighborhood within a larger district. So I’m in the sector of Remira in the neighborhood of Kibakabaga in the district of Gasabo in the city of Kigali.
Back to the Umuganda
The village chief (democratically elected) headed the discussion talking about the need for better roads. Citizens then voiced their opinions and concerns. As I stated previously, the concept of Umuganda astonishes me; and, what astonishes me most about Rwanda is how every individual does more than just strive for wealth and success. People start non-profts, volunteer in schools, donate money, become community leaders, all on the side and without pay or glory. I truly believe that this dedication to service is one of the key unifying factors in Rwandan society. Everywhere you go, people are proud to be Rwandan. The sense of national identity is mind-boggling, I hope to focus my independent study project on the role that this sort of service plays in the post-conflict reconciliation process.
I can’t wait for the next Umuganda