How different do you think your cities would be if once a month, every month, everyone got together, gave up their morning, and went to help out those in the community that need it?
You might just see your communities transformed, right?
Well, this is exactly what happens in Rwanda.
On the last Saturday of each month, every citizen is obliged to participate in community work called “Umuganda”.
Everyone gathers in the community to work on a previously decided task; whether that be reconstructing a road, rebuilding a house for a family in desperate need, providing a family with a kitchen garden or countless other projects that are invaluable to the individual being helped or the community as a whole.
And it is not just the projects that are benefitting the community; after the practical work is over, meetings are held with the whole village or town.
I attended ‘Umuganda’ twice whilst in Rwanda. After spending the morning getting my hands stuck into carrying cows manure to build a vegetable patch for one of the poorest families in the village. As well as often getting laughed at by the locals for the disbelief that a white person would be joining in their community work, never mind getting absolutely covered in dirt.
Everyone walked together to the field where the meeting was held. On this particular day the Senator was present, along with the Vice Mayor, MPs and other Government representatives.
Issues currently affecting the community were discussed and addressed by the senator, along with advice given on potential problems such as human-trafficking and prostitution.
After this talk, the meeting turned into a brilliant form of micro-democracy.
The Senator continued the meeting by leading it into the hands of the community member. All being invited to bring their problems to the Government Representatives who had to listen.
Electricity was raised as being a problem, with not everyone being able to obtain access to its instalment in their homes. Other presented their personal crises of marital breakdown and injustice. Every person was listened to, their voice taken seriously and notes made to take the issues higher.
Can you imagined this in the UK?
If we all met with our communities regularly, Government members present. Those struggling with debt, redundancy, loneliness, abuse or family crisis listened to. Their voice heard and something done about their circumstance. The results would be astounding! What’s more, we might see communities become more united, and those on the fringe of society become empowered by their involvement.
By Rebecca Atkinson