Bringing the Rwandan Umuganda to the USA
“Welcome to the land of 1000 Hills, 1000 Smiles, and 1000 Solutions”
- By Sharon Hammond, IDEAS for Us Hive Director
Rwanda is one of the most sustainable and progressive countries in East Africa. Plastic bags are banned countrywide, car free days are mandated in the capital and there is a national determination to build a sustainable, modern infrastructure to support a rapidly growing population. In 2008 Rwanda became the first country in the world to elect a majority female parliament, and in fact was recently ranked number 4 in the entire world for gender parity.
Amazingly, it’s been just 23 years since ethnic and political tensions in Rwanda were stoked into a genocidal fever that took the lives of over a million people in 100 days and left another 2 million homeless. Leading up to the genocide, Rwanda was in the midst of a deep economic crisis. An agricultural system forced into focusing on cash crops was driving land fragmentation, soil erosion and scarcity of clean water. Women were not allowed to own property or businesses on their own. How did they do it? With so many challenges, how did Rwandan’s not just recover but completely transform their society, not just rebuild the existing but innovate and build something better than before?
What if people who had been on opposite sides of the ethnic cleansing had shared goals and worked side by side to achieve them? What if they learned new information and skills together? What if everyone worked together for the common good?
Reaching back into the pre-colonial traditions of the country, Rwandan leadership put a new spin on an old tradition. Umuganda roughly translates to “come together for a common purpose”.
Historically, communities would Umuganda when the need arose to build roads and homes, or to help a widow get food crops in. In the modern iteration, Umuganda remains a form of community self-help, but with an added incentive and structure. Umuganda is practiced every month on the last Saturday. Umuganda is practiced by everyone. From the President to the last person…all between the ages of 18 and 65 are required to participate in at least 3 hours of work for their community. Each month, they come together in community centers to receive information, occasional incentives and always to contribute back into the eco-system they call home. Businesses stay closed that day while the citizens take actions like cleaning streets, building hospitals, and maintaining waterways. Working toward the common good, the people have helped to create the infrastructure that improves their daily lives and the relationships that overcome the trauma of the past. They are building resilience through universal inclusion and creating a culture of implicit personal pride and responsibility. What would your community look like, feel like if everyone came together to Umuganda? Why not find out? Be a part of the movement and join The Hive on the Last Saturday of every month in Umuganda!
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