This past weekend we took part in our first community development event called Umuganda (I could be spelling that incredibly wrong but it sounds like this – oo-moo-gan-da). Umuganda happens the last Saturday of every month and everyone that is able is expected to show up. The city of Kigali is broken up into areas and each area has a local leader (called an Umudugudu – say it out loud for fun – oo-moo-doo-goo-doo). Each area organizes a little differently. Rubirizi, our area, has a truck with a loud speaker that goes around and announces the details of the project a few days before it happens. The project begins around 8:30 am and continues until the particular project is accomplished (usually a couple hours). This is followed by a community meeting where the local leaders
challenge, encourage, and update the community on future projects, finances, security, and information from the government. This is also an opportunity for the local people to air any complaints, requests, or opinions about the community.
This particular Saturday, we took our fourteen students and four staff, grabbed some Koopakoopas (long blades used for slashing grass by hand) and headed for the bush. We live on what, a few years ago, was the edge of Kigali and so there’s still a lot of pasture land, farms, and even dairies in the area. We walked about three or four blocks and found ourselves in a densely brush-filled pasture with a path through the trees. The project was to clear out the brush, grass, and tree branches along the path so that tractors could get in and turn the path into a dirt road. When we arrived we found about 200 people gathered up and down the length of this kilometer of path, hacking away to clean it up.
Our crew got to work with much zeal! Maybe a little too much since most of the foreigners had never used the koopakoopas before and were swinging with wild
abandon! This made me a little nervous because a small area packed with lots of people and just as many sharp blades seemed to me to be a recipe for disaster.
The locals, it turned out,
were pros at using the blades and clearing the scrub and so after working to counsel our guys to work more on their accuracy and a little less on their golf swing I became far more relaxed.
After only and hour and a half, the project was completed, having made a big enough space for tractors to fit. Everyone was called back up the hill to a plateau under a huge tree to start the community meeting. The leader addressed many issues, encouraged the people for the large turnout, and welcomed us (the YWAM group) to our first Umuganda. We left before the meeting was over and headed back to the base to get cleaned up. Over all, I enjoyed the fellowship I found there and the spirit of community ownership that the people worked with. I met many new people who I expect to see around the shops and look forward to continuing to participate in future Umugandas.