Thursday, October 27, 2011

Saturday Service and the spirit of umuganda

You won't find a business open or a bus running from 7 am to noon on the last Saturday of the month in Rwanda. Instead, you will find nearly every citizen over 18 engaged in the community service program called "umuganda."

Agahozo students pose with the litter they cleaned up at a Saturday
Service event.

At Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, we practice umuganda in a slightly different way. Every Saturday (and on Sunday for 7th Day Adventists), students participate in village-wide community service projects. One of my roles here this past year has been to coordinate these "Saturday Service" events.

ASYV students help clear the perimeter road around our village.

Students take action on the farm, in the kitchen, in special village projects, and at their homes. On the farm, for example, students prepare soil with pitchforks and hoes, assist with milking the cows, weed vegetable plots, or plant seeds. In the kitchen, students peel vegetables, wash dishes, or clean the dining room. When assigned to their homes, students maintain the yards, clean windows, and pull plants from the edges of the dirt roads. Village projects include planting trees, picking up litter, removing invasive species in the nature park, and cleaning the school.

ASYV students clean the school on a Saturday morning.

Activities around Rwanda are not dissimilar, with people often cleaning roads, assisting those less able with agricultural work, or beautifying an area. Participating in umuganda is mandatory (small fines can be levied for truancy); thus, it does not technically qualify as volunteering. Still, a population uniting in community service is powerful.

ASYV students chop and peel carrots in the kitchen.

There are about five million people over the age of 18 in Rwanda. Can you imagine what that force accomplishes, even just one half-day a month?

A classroom that had been used as a dumping room needed to be cleaned
for current use and next year's incoming class of students.

One Saturday morning, ASYV students transformed it into a place
 ready for study!

We have 375 students who participate for two hours (most on Saturday, with Adventists on Sunday) every week at Agahozo. In the twenty Saturday Service events I have coordinated, students have helped the village move forward by providing some 15,000 hours of service.

Students plant trees at Agahozo on a Saturday morning.

With a spirit of community, Rwandans are building their future.

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