Saturday, August 30, 2014


Rwanda has a very interesting take on community service. The last Saturday of every month is called umuganda, and the city shuts down for the morning for neighbors to come together to work for the betterment of the area. We still are learning about how this works. We first experienced umuganda in 2010 when we were here for our adoption. We had limited time to complete some important errands and got up early one Saturday morning to learn that we couldn't leave the hotel until noon. 
This morning is umuganda. With no construction work being done across the street, no buses or Moto taxis running, no shops doing business, the quiet feels almost noisy. 
I think the way it works is that each community plans a group activity and makes an announcement of the plans in the morning. We asked Eddie to scope the situation last night and he thought the official umuganda activity was maybe not intended for families. Mzungus are not specifically expected to participate, but we do want to be a part of our community as much as possible. 
So, after breakfast, we headed out our gate armed with bags to pick up trash. Kigali is relatively litter-free. 
There are some interesting official and unofficial laws that keep this city clean and orderly. (Plastic shopping bags are illegal here.) 
Yet, in 10 minutes the six of us collected 4 grocery bags of bottles, wrappers, parts of shoes, and other assorted items. 
A few roaming locals were definitely surprised to see us out there. With the gate and our car, a normal but unfortunate barrier exists between us and the rest of our world. 
What are your thoughts? I think the idea of umuganda is both inspiring and beautiful but the compulsory part is new to me. I can't help but think it would never fly in America where we hold individualism so close to our hearts. But what would our cities look like if we were compelled to take responsibility for them together? If we were all required to spend three hours a week picking up trash? We'd at least probably litter less. 
(Behold, the fruits of our labor)

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