How One Community Defied Its Violent History

Farmers in Umuganda
Leslie Taylor-Grover
September 13, 2021

In the 1990s, Rwanda was known worldwide for violence against its own citizens. It was nearly destroyed by the chaos and bloodshed during the Rwandan Genocide. But that isn’t the whole story, because of one word: “Umuganda.”

Rwanda is a small country, but its history of genocide against the Tutsi people is something many people know of. But there’s something else even more horrific about the situation – and it made the genocide even more painful.

Umuganda literally means “community service.” But during the 1990s, it was used to promote murdering Tutsi people and those who supported them as a “service” to the country

But something drastic has changed the meaning of the word forever.

Despite its ugly history, Rwanda has reclaimed “umuganda” as a national holiday that requires citizens to do community service as part of a culture of togetherness. 

From picking up garbage to repairing public entities, umuganda has made Rwanda an increasingly inviting travel destination and a more peaceful country. The terror once captured by the word is now a source of national pride!

Rwanda’s painful past is only part of its identity. As the practice of umuganda has demonstrated, we’re capable of using our history, even if it’s painful, to create a future of healing and cooperation, just as the Rwandans have done!

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