Written by Henry Escobar
After the genocide in 94, the government implemented mandated community projects for all Rwandans on the last Saturday of every month from 8am-11am, also known as abuganda.
During this time members of the community gather around a common goal and work to improve the neighborhoods. This Saturday, they were digging ditches on the side of the roads to help keep the water from washing the dirt roads away during the coming rainy season.
Theo, one of the workers at the Africa New Life guest house took us with him. Jeff and I were fortunate to be able to participate and get a little warm up for our garden building. We met Celestine who works for ANL and he was graceful enough to translate and explain to us what was going on. After the ditch digging or whatever project the community leader decides is necessary, the neighbors gather in a designated area for a town hall meeting of sorts.
On the walk to the site, we met Julius, a member of the community and a fluent English speaker. They discussed upcoming necessary projects, domestic issues that can be solved without the courts, and they assign community leaders for projects or groups. I was left in awe of their composure and willingness to solve any tensions or issues.
When discussing issues of kids falling into substance abuse, instead of wanting to punish the children, they encouraged the community to love and embrace them because it was likely that these kids did not have the affection of a parent. They talked about the importance of being present in the home as a working father and mother and being intentional with their children. Every \thing they spoke left me in awe. I felt like I was in parenting seminar or a community group with our church.
We moved on to assigning community leaders, and Julius was put in charge of community sports or activities. Jeff spoke up and offered them some of the soccer balls we had brought and they were excited. They thanked us and asked us to say a few words, which caught us off guard. We thanked them for their hospitality and welcoming us into their community. We let them know how we admired the way they live life together, and how they had given more to us than we had to them. Anyone can donate material, but to teach to live life together, embrace, work, and heal together is a valuable lesson us Americans can learn from.
Jeff and I walked away replenished and inspired by these people who have overcome death and betrayal through sweat, compassion and working together on Abuganda.