The Umuganda Tradition in Rwanda can Make Good Use of SAWBO Videos

by James Kamuye Kataru

In my last blog post titled “Expanding the SAWBO Networks in Rwanda and Burundi”, I recognized how the people of the two East African “twin-nations” were warm and welcoming, kind, and approachable . More importantly, they were united against fighting hunger and ensuring food security at the community level. It’s worth noting that with a little environmental conservation and management and the available bridge for digital content in SAWBO Animation Videos, the region can experience growth in their agricultural sector.

In today’s post, I want to emphasize an exercise I participated in while in Kigali. For several years, we’ve been hearing about the “Umuganda practice” and how it strengthens Rwanda’s social fabric. Having experienced it first-hand, I concur that it makes the country’s spirit admirable and enviable in equal measure! To experience the Umuganda practice, I had to leave the comfort of my hotel and join a local sector (community) in cleaning roads, rainwater drainage system, and clearing a few bushes. It was refreshing to feel firsthand a community united to accomplish simple things.

What is Umuganda?

This great word and practice translates to “coming together for a common purpose”. It can also be considered a community uniting to achieve a common goal or purpose that requires physical indulgence. According to my guide and friend Muhawenimana Edouard, who is studying urban and regional planning at a local university and also a member of the Moon Band, Rwandans take pride in Umuganda, which takes place the last Saturday of each month. He further explains that the practice has its origins in the Rwandese rich tradition and culture of families calling upon friends and neighbors to help in completing difficult tasks.

Sector members during a Umuganda cleaning exercise. Every member of the community is required by law to participate in this activity. Photo Credit: Muhawenimana Edouard

Umuganda can be compared to “Ujamaa” in Tanganyika, and “Harambee” in Kenya. All these are systems borrowed from our cultures and enriched to serve present day communal purposes with great results. In the case of Rwanda, this occasion is used to do a variety of tasks including cleaning, conservation, tree planting, collecting plastics and other forms of trash in the sectors, taking the sick and weak to the hospital, weeding farms for the old, building houses, and other chores that improve the community’s well-being.

For my Umuganda my friend and guide Muhawenimana picked me up from my hotel at 6:00 a.m. in order for us to reach his sector’s Umuganda location on time. I was surprised to find the local leaders and a large number of community members-men, women, and  youth had already assembled and were clearing grass using hoes, slashers, and spades, all donated by members of the community.

Integrating Umuganda Practice with Sharing SAWBO Animations

As I shoveled grass using a spade, slashed bushes, and curried the dirt to a collection point at the top of a steep hill, it dawned on me that the Umuganda practice can be applied to the sharing of SAWBO animation videos. This could provide additional education and information to the community and equip members with knowledge on fighting and preventing common diseases and agricultural issues.

For instance, on health matters, the community can be taught how to access the SAWBO video library, which is rich in free educational content on Malaria prevention, Charcoal water filtration, Cholera prevention, Ebola prevention, Hand washing, etc. Farmers could also access agricultural videos that can enrich the Umuganda spirit in the farming villages in a great way. These include, Scouting for Fall Armyworm, Preparing natural insecticide, Post-harvest loss prevention, Preparing compost, Drip irrigation, and many more.

After cleaning pathways, opening water drainage systems and other areas of the community, the dirt is loaded onto waiting trucks for disposal. Photo credit: Muhawenimana Edouard

I want to encourage our networks in Kenya, Niger, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Zambia, Rwanda, and Burundi to keep inventing ways to enrich their communities with free knowledge from SAWBO content. The Rwandese have their Umuganda, but each country or community most likely has a similar clarion call that unites them behind certain purposes. Use these opportunities to share animation videos and encourage your people to implement the knowledge, then see the results.

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