Umuganda is mandatory community service that usually happens once a month all across Rwanda. The shops and transportation systems shut down from about 8am-11am and people gather together to work on some type of project in their village. Since rainy season has been wrecking havoc on the country this year there are now two Saturdays a month dedicated to Umuganda for the duration of rainy season. At the school we are working on building a basketball court but we are still in the very early stages. Last week we started digging up the field in front of the classrooms where we will eventually build the court. I love the idea that the kids are actually involved (and by involved I mean doing all the work) in the process and they all showed up with hoes on Saturday, ready to go!

Technically all the teachers are required to show up but that usually means four or five. One of my favorite teachers, Goreth, showed up in nice jeans and a cute purple top so I figured she would just be supervising but she jumped right in. Rwandans truly love to be fashionable at all times of the day, even if they are working in the fields.

The students had a hard time working at first because they were so focused on staring at me and mocking my attempts to dig up grass with a hoe. Rwanda is all about “the one right way” and I am sorry, but if the grass is eventually removed from my working area, regardless of my method, how can it be wrong? Oh well, at least I was able to provide them with some laughter during their physical labor.

By the end of the morning I was covered in dirt (it took three times the usual amount of water to take a bath), a decent amount sore (I have no idea how these Rwandan women spend all day bent over in the fields), and had encountered at least a dozen different types of spiders while hauling grass but was not able to react in my usual dramatic fashion since I was with all the students and they would mock me forever.

I am really excited to watch this process unfold and a very selfish part of me loves the idea of helping build something concrete that will be here for years to come. I know (or at least hope) that I am making an impact in my community, but this project will be something I physically helped build with my students and fellow teachers. Here are a few pictures from the day!

Two of the teachers: Sam and Goreth


One response »

  1. A fascinating idea! Is it mandatory in the sense that there are consequences for not participating, and participating is tracked, or just that, culturally speaking, it’s expected that all will participate? And who decides what projects the community will work on? I would love to know more!

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