Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Community integration.

On the last Saturday of every month Rwandans comes together for Umuganda. Umuganda means to ‘come together in common purpose to achieve an outcome.’ Umuganda’s beginnings date back to 1962 when Rwanda achieved independence from Belgium. It was considered an independent contribution to nation building. At this time, it was often referred to as ‘Umubyizi’ ‘a day set aside by friends and family to help each other.’ It officially became a government program in 1974 and was undertaken once a week. As with almost all features of Rwandan society, the genocide of 1994 disrupted Umuganda’s practice.

It was reintroduced in 1998 to foster a shared national identity. As a UK reader can probably imagine, many people perceived Umuganda to be a form of forced labour during its inception, but after significant achievements in erosion control and infrastructure, people became far more willing to participate. Today, Rwandans between the ages of 18 and 65 are obliged to take part and others who are able are encouraged, including visitors to the country and non-Rwandan nationals, as we were soon to discover. Activities take place between 8am, and at least, 11am. The activities are organised through a hierarchy from the village level all the way up to national level. We were to be working on leveling ground to keep livestock for the poorest people within our community in Mushubati.

Laurissa and Sam during Umuganda.

The government has recently provided them with housing, known collectively as a model village (Rwanda’s equivalent of council housing in the UK). The work is grueling, especially in the sometimes blistering heat of Rwanda. Leveling the ground included ploughing, digging and raking; all were achieved using one utensil, a hoe. The people of the local community were in good spirits for Umuganda, singing songs they all knew to keep their productivity high.

After the designated activities, a community meeting takes place, within which both members and leaders discuss current issues and how to resolve them. For example, during our attendance to such a meeting, topics such as sanitation, the importance of schooling, and family planning were discussed. The local leaders took time to deliver speeches and then engage the community through questions related to what they had spoken about.  A woman, no older than 18 years old was asked what she had learned from the speeches given. Her response demonstrated the importance and outreach of such discussions. 

She answered that what she had learned about the importance of contraception was that it should be available to all women and not just married women without judgement. According to our ICV counterparts, it is currently frowned upon for an unmarried woman to visit a health centre and request contraception. This perception was highlighted during the audience’s reaction as it drew bouts of laughter and awkward faces. Evidently though, this young woman’s attitude is proof that different ideas can be embraced and change can be achieved.

As it was planned we had an event of meeting with Kopakama members and surrounding community to introduce ourselves as new cohort. Therefore, after Umuganda we dressed  in Rwandan tradition clothing which was unique and presentable. The event started at 3 PM. With good playlist songs, we introduced ourselves and three UKV’s presented a speech in Kinyarwanda.

In terms of work, We raise awareness on human rights, the importance of saving, sanitation and health insurance. In other words,  it was the time to show a community the activities we shall be engaging in to the placement. To evaluate the lesson learnt we asked questions and they answered them well. We were happy that Some of Kopakama employees were with us together with sector leader Christopher and head of Mushubati health centre.

Apart from the above presentation we danced Rwandan song (Tarihinda), Macarena and cha cha slide, the community danced with us and then we shared a drink.

Traditional clothing for meeting the local community.
(From left to Right, Back to Front: Ange, Sarah L, Laurisa, Edana, Clarisse/Chantel, Sarah M, Vanessa)
Written by Sam & Chantal.

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