BI WORLDWIDE's Event Professionals Katrina Rannard and Teresa Allen were eager to get their hands dirty and discover more about Rwanda's community spirit as they took part in the monthly Umuganda morning, which coincided with their trip, as well as visiting the local villages.
Umuganda means ‘coming together for a common purpose to achieve an outcome’ and is a mandatory community service morning where all able-bodied inhabitants between the ages of 18 and 65 throughout the country are expected to participate. Shops close, public transport services stop and attendance is logged. President Paul Kagame and other government officials visit different communities each month and join in to show that the scheme is all about working together as a unit without any distinction of hierarchy levels. Whilst this law may seem a little dictatorial, it has proved to be a fantastic way to benefit local communities through cleaning the streets, developing environmental protection and building schools and medical centres to name just a few projects. Umuganda has enabled Rwanda to become the leader in the ‘Green Movement’ throughout Africa and many foreign officials are coming to Rwanda to learn about their processes and procedures to benefit their own countries.
Katrina and Teresa joined 120 people from the local village where the morning task was to help build the foundations of a house for a poor widowed man and his five children. This involved carrying volcanic rocks gathered from the nearby fields to the plot site to build the base for the mud-brick walls to be constructed upon.
Teresa comments: “Not only were the rocks heavy and cumbersome to hold, but the plot was located down a ludicrously steep hillside accessed via an undulating, thin mud path. The locals put us to shame carrying rocks on their heads that were four times the size of ours and some of the women also had babies strapped to their backs! We certainly felt rather inadequate and weak in comparison to how easily they undertook the task. It was eye-opening to say the least and we gained instant respect for this hard-working and strong nation.”
The volunteering concluded with a meeting where the locals gathered to hear from both the local leader and government secretary. Whilst this is an opportunity to discuss local issues and to put forward ideas for future projects, the leader reiterates the importance of Umuganda and highlights that everyone’s effort as a team benefits the poor and boosts the community spirit.
After the normal formalities had taken place, Teresa and Katrina were asked to give a speech, which was translated by a community leader. Katrina comments: ‘It was an honour to have had the opportunity to take part in Umuganda and the locals made us feel very special and that our help was appreciated. We explained how we felt good to have the opportunity to help and how they must feel this sense even stronger by helping their own community and neighbours, to which they all clapped and nodded their heads looking at one another. When we said that we thought they were fitter and healthier than we were they laughed out loud! Whilst it was hard work, it was a very worthwhile and rewarding experience.”
Whilst speaking with a community leader, he explained: “the locals no longer need a law to continue Umuganda, no-one is waiting for the President to tell them what to do, the initiative is fully bedded in and they feel empowered and self-driven to learn the needs of their neighbours and to provide a better community for themselves.”
For Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events groups visiting Rwanda it is possible, like Katrina and Teresa, to join in with local Umuganda projects or indeed if travel dates fall outside of this, a bespoke project can be organised through the local community leaders to ensure that the needs of the area are met.