While I was in Rwanda late last year I learned of Umuganda, which is perhaps the best enforced form of community service I have ever seen.
Umuganda can be translated to “coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome,” and it is a mandatory day of community service that takes place on the last Saturday of every month from 8am to 11am. During Umuganda all Rwandans between the ages of 18-65 (actually everyone is, including tourists!) are required to go outside and clean up a designated area, usually close to where they reside; almost everything shuts down, including private and public transportation.
The purpose of this is twofold, firstly, and most obviously, it is to keep the country clean, and Rwanda was by far the cleanest of the 7 countries I visited in Africa – it’s actually cleaner than most states in the US, and definitely cleaner than NY. It also dissuades people from littering by making them responsible for their actions, you’re way less likely to throw that plastic bottle out the window if you know in a few weeks you’ll be outside picking it up.
Secondly, it brings the community together. In a country that just 24 years ago experienced a mass genocide where neighbors brutally murdered one another, the importance of an allegiance to one’s community over tribe is highly valued and needed for the continued success and healing of this country. It’s amazing how quickly this country has been able to bounce back, since the 1994 genocide the GDP has risen from $416 to $1,784 in 2015, and tourism is it’s fastest growing sector.
Though I must admit it’s not a perfect practice, as Rwanda’s wealthier citizens usually send their help in their stead. But, I do think there is a lot to learn from this practice. I am astounded by how much litter I see on the sides of the highway or on the sidewalks as I run – perhaps if we had our own Umuganda the streets would be cleaner, and we would be more empathetic towards our neighbors.
Written by: Mollie Mac, ECOBAGS® very own marketing maven. Mollie is an adventurer and a green living advocate. If you have any tips or tricks for her she’d love to hear from you, email her at: mollie(at)ecobags(dot)com