Ever wondered what would happen if every person in your community gave up 3 hours once a month for the good of the community what the results would be? Well the results would be a clean, safe and well built neighborhood like Rwanda. Very many people who go on Rwanda safari holidays wonder why Rwanda is cleaner than all the other east African countries, not to mention the neat roads and their well maintained sideways the country is impeccable! The answer is simple “Umuganda” literally translating into coming together for a common cause or call it community service.
In my homeland Buganda it’s called “Gwanga mujje “ drums would be sounded by the elders of the village for all villagers to convene to dig the roads and trenches, dig the wells and springs. Mend the roof of a church or a hospital help and elderly neighbor with a leaking roof or fill the big pot hole in the road. These were not only bonding moments for the community but also a way of making our communities better. As you can realize I speak of it in the past tense because these day have long passed with the westernization and education not very many people would show up (if they even came anyway) if these drums were sounded at all or better yet they may not even understand them.
In our neighboring Rwanda the spirit has continued on. After the 1994 genocide, President Paul Kagame saw a need to bring together a community that had been torn down and devastated during the merciless killings and also a way to ensure that their country was kept clean. He then thought of reviving an old tradition in olden Rwanda tradition Umuganda. So every 4th Saturday of every month, all stores, roads, and offices are closed for a compulsory 3 hours of community service. Although it is compulsory, people take it upon themselves without being threatened to go to jail or anything of that sort to keep their beloved country clean. The whole activity is overseen by an area chairperson. Anyone who does not participate without a viable reason id worked upon by the community. You are excluded from community gatherings or even fired from your job basically because people grew up seeing their elders participate in this community service.
The biggest part of the community does show up and put in an effort to dig the drainage ditches along the sides of the roads to divert the rainwater. Other groups weed the side of the dirt roads, pack in potholes they see along the way, and hack off overgrown grass along the side. Other villages put up stones along the same edges and roads to prevent mudslides. Other people with particular skills give their services for free this day. It’s not mandatory for the children to take part but they keep around and play with other children from the neighborhood while some lend a little help.
Imagine if all of us gave in 3 hours every month to our community what a difference that would make. We would know our neighbors better we would have a cleaner and safer surrounding. The benefits of community service can be seen in the neat and clean safe Rwanda. Like president Kagame commonly says “we do not need international aid to keep Rwanda’s backyards clean”