Rwanda

What Are You Doing on Saturday?

by Carina Cordero Brossy

Charlotte, NC, United States

What are you doing the last Saturday of every month? Well, if you are a Rwandan citizen, this Saturday morning is booked. Once each month, all Rwandan citizens commit to a day of community service in an event called Umuganda.

History of Umuganda

Translated as coming together to achieve an outcome, Umuganda is deeply rooted in Rwandan culture as a way family and friends support one another during difficult situations. In 1974, the Rwandan government established a national Umuganda with strict rules and non-participation penalties. This once-traditional form of solidarity thus fell under state control, which created unease among the citizenry.

Lost Tradition

The grisly Rwandan genocide of 1994 brought greater mistrust and distortion of this tradition, because its meaning was twisted into justification for seeking out and destroying the Tutsi people (70 percent of all Tutsis perished within the 100-day genocide). It wasn’t until 1998, as Rwanda sought to rebuild a unified nation, that Umuganda was reintroduced.

Umuganda Restored

Today, Umuganda takes place on the last Saturday of the month from 8 to 11AM. With a population of about 11.5 million, all able-bodied Rwandan citizens ages 18 to 65 are required to participate in structured, monitored local service. These initiatives are credited with an enormous number of improvements: building schools, constructing health centers, tending cooperative gardens, cleaning roadways, recycling waste, planting trees, among others. In addition to creating a vehicle for public service, Umuganda also creates a platform for local project leaders and community members to exchange information and concerns.

Scope of Service

According to the Ministry of Local Government of Umuganda, from July 2011 to June 2012 an estimated 80 percent of the population participated in this activity, which equates to more than 12 billion Rwandan francs (about 15 million U.S. dollars) in human services.

Bright Future

Given that state law now forbids you to mention your ethnicity, use plastic bags, or neglect your duty on an Umuganda day, Rwanda has clearly emerged from its difficult past. The world can now see the possibility of a more unified, progressive African continent.

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Math Questions

  1. During an Umuganda service Saturday, a group of villagers must clear a 5-acre banana field in order for the farmer to plant a crop of wheat. If it takes 10 villagers 3 hours to clear and process one acre, how many villagers must be involved to clear and process this 5-acre banana field in the 3-hour time slot?
  2. Rwanda’s capital of Kigali is home to about 1 million inhabitants. According to the chart in the story, 86.1% of Kigalians participated in Umaganda projects from July 2011 to June 2012. How many Kigalians participated in Umuganda that year?
  3. According to the chart, Kigalian human service equaled 2,017,961,636 Rwandan francs in that same year. What is the Rwandan franc value per person?

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Extension Questions

  1. Do you think one should be penalized for not engaging in community service? What do you think the Umuganda participation rate would be if there were no penalties?
  2. Are you more or less motivated to do helpful tasks that are mandatory?
  3. What are other incentives for serving in the community besides the desire to avoid being penalized?

Write your own extension question and submit it here

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