The word Umuganda can be translated as ‘coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome’. In traditional Rwandan culture, members of the community would call upon their family, friends and neighbors to help them complete a difficult task.
As part of efforts to reconstruct Rwanda and nurture a shared national identity, the Government of Rwanda drew on aspects of Rwandan culture and traditional practices to enrich and adapt its development programs to the country’s needs and context. The result is a set of Home Grown Solutions — culturally owned practices translated into sustainable development programs. One of these Home Grown Solutions is Umuganda.
In Rwanda, there is a mandatory community service day from 8:00am to 11:00am, on the last Saturday of each month called Umuganda meaning community service. The day is called umunsi w’umuganda, meaning “contribution made by the community which is designed to be a day of contribution and building the country by citizens themselves. By law all able bodied persons above the age of 18 and below 65 are expected to participate in volunteer community work. The start of this practice goes back to colonial times and is still practiced today.
Participation in Umuganda is usually supervised by a manager, or Umudugudu chairperson who oversees the effectiveness and efficiency of community participation. On this day, business activity halts, public transportation is limited, and people are seen everywhere working. People participate in cleaning streets, cutting grass and trimming bushes along roads, or repairing public facilities or building houses for vulnerable persons. People with particular skills offer their services for free on this day. For example, doctors may offer free medical examination.
The benefits of Umuganda are not merely economic. The day is intended to build community involvement and strengthen cohesion between persons of different background and levels. One such a benefit is that people can access authorities to articulate their needs and voice opinions on various issues.
The labour cost from Umuganda contributes to national development programs. By reaping the rewards of the volunteer labor and by having more capital to invest in the country, Umuganda has contributed to the growth and development of the Rwanda.
Today close to 80% of Rwandans take part in monthly community work. Successful projects include the building of schools, medical centres and hydro electric plants as well as rehabilitating wetlands and creating highly productive agricultural plots. The value of Umuganda to the country’s development since 2007 has been estimated at more than US $60 million. Fro more information, click on Rwandapedia