Umuganda: making our country great

Young Rwandans are proud of their country… Proud of how far they’ve come in such a short space of time… And most importantly, proud to feel personal ownership of this success story…

Every last Saturday of the month the Rwandan people come together and do chores to improve their community space.

This phenomenon is called ‘umuganda’, which can be translated as ‘coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome’.

As umuganda fell on the first weekend I was here, I decided to get involved by joining a colleague of mine for the event. I also stayed at her place for the night as umuganda starts at 8 am and you are not allowed to drive after that.

The half day activity was split into two. The first half we cleared a meadow of grass using machetes – I must say, my efforts were mainly for the photo op rather than actual contribution as it turns out I am useless at handling one.

The second half of the morning was taken up by a community meeting where they announced election results, shared government plans and a special guest – a congressman – gave advice on a range of topics including nutrition, women’s rights and hygiene.

I have been so impressed with the resourcefulness of the Rwandan people.

Not only is umuganda the perfect medium to heal the community and make people feel like one again. It is also one of the only chances the government has to reach its remote communities that often times have limited access to electricity (i.e. radio and TV) and may not be able to read (i.e. newspapers, leaflets).

Seeing the congressman giving advice and challenging old beliefs was very eye opening. For example, Rwandans tend not to eat a lot of vegetables as historically it was seen as the food of the poor. In addition, it can be hard to ensure veggies are clean if not cooked through. The daily cuisine therefore has much more of an emphasis on starches (cassava, maise, rice, potatoes). So the congressman was trying to challenge this belief by sharing stories of children’s health, the importance of vitamins and good hygiene practices.

One of my personal goals was to understand how institutions operate in a completely different environment and I am so grateful to see glimpses of this every day!



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