Rwanda 2016 – Day 8: Umuganda

On 30th of July, we went to Gikondo to participate in Umuganda. It’s a community service rooted in Rwandan culture. In tradition, members of a community would call their family, friends and neighbors to help them complete a difficult task. Umuganda had been organized in special circumstances individually. It became an official government program in 1974. It is mandatory for everyone 18 to 65 years old to attend Umuganda from 8 AM till 11 AM on the last Saturday of each month. Project is decided by District basis and executed by villages. Projects are like street cleaning, repairing public facilities and roads, landscaping, repairing houses for vulnerable people, etc. The day is also to strengthen relationships among the people living in the area. On the Umuganda day, businesses are closed and public transportation is limited to moving people to the gathering places. Police were at every junctions and cars were stopped. In fact, our bus was stopped many times and allowed to proceed only after checking the special permit.

We got there by around 9:30 and there were about a couple of hundred people already. But they had only a dozen or so shovels and hoes, and two wheelbarrows. The project was to dig and move a mound of dirt from one side of a street to another part to fill pits. So the surface of the road would be more even and flat. When we stepped in we literally stole the scene and everybody were watching Mzungu working. Mzungu is a term used in the African Great Lakes region. It originally meant ‘wanderer’ indicating European explorers who got lost. It is now commonly used to refer to ‘people with white skin’ or anybody with lighter complexion. In Kinyarwanda, Rwandan language, it’s Umuzungu, and Abazungu for plural. But Mzungu is more widely used. It can be used in an affectionate or insulting ways. To them we were Mzungu.

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With BFR staffs and kids after the community work.

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We ate lunch at a restaurant called Meze Fresh. It’s a Rwanda version of Chipotle and we appreciated this ‘special’ food.

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In the afternoon, there was a soccer game between BFR kids and a local soccer academy team. The BFR team was hastily formed but the other team has been practicing at least 5 days a week. They were smaller kids but well trained, disciplined, and very serious about the game.

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BFR team had lost 4 games against this team in the past. But this time it was a tie game of 1-1 with our soccer coach scoring a free kick.

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We all cheered for both teams.

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(July 2016)

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