‘Johnny come lately’ on Charitable deeds
Rwandan society is built on a sense of community. If you are visitor to our land, you only need to stay for a month to find out. On the last Saturday of the month, don’t be surprised to wake up to an unusually quiet morning with no traffic except for broom wielding neighbours. It’s the famous Umuganda on show and you are welcome to do a little ‘improv’.
In the aftermath of our darkest hour, it was this sense of community that we turned to in the form of the Gacaca courts. Rwandans understand that you need your neighbour to get through life. What you cannot do by yourself, you call a friend and it shall be done.
This is why the community poverty alleviation program known historically as Ubudehe has always been eagerly accepted and responded to by Rwandans from all walks of life.
What we seem to grapple with is altruism or benevolent giving. This is the act of going beyond the needs of oneself and acknowledging that some other person may be in more need than you. This is how charitable giving is born; a little something given for nothing directly in return. When I go out to dinner with friends I am constantly surprised at how resistant people generally are to giving tips regardless of the quality of service rendered.
Many religions including Christianity, Islam and Judaism espouse charity giving as a virtue. It is referred to as giving alms, zakah/sadaqah, and tzedakah respectively. In Buddhism it’s recognised as the beginning of one’s journey to Nirvana; a kind of spiritual liberation.
Statistically, Rwanda is a very religious country with 98% of the general population belonging to the Catholic, Anglican and Adventist churches or Islam. In practice though among the key demographic of 18-39 year olds, the number may be as low 7 out of 10.
The sense of accommodation and being a voice for the vulnerable that was characteristic of the church in the post independence years was eroded in the debacle that was the genocide. The church was grossly culpable in facilitating atrocities against its faithful followers.
An excerpt from an African Rights publication from 1995 titled ‘Rwanda Death, Despair and Defiance’ captures the sense of betrayal felt by victims; ” One of the darkest moments in the tragedy that has befallen the victims of genocide and the killings in Rwanda is the stark failure of the leadership of both the catholic and Anglican churches in Rwanda. They have failed to condemn what happened and they have neglected to offer solace and support to the victims. On the contrary, many of the most senior churchmen, including the archbishops of both the catholic and Anglican churches, went out of their way to support the architects of the genocide by attempting to confuse the world”
Rwandans continue to go to church en masse. The mushrooming of new age Pentecostal churches is evidence to the growth of organised religion. Perhaps people seek to fill a void left by the shaken faith in the traditional Christian denominations? That is for theologians to study further.
It does not matter what religion you belong to or whatever beliefs you hold; we can all take inspiration from the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37 NIV) on being asked by a man of the law “who is my neighbour?” Jesus narrated a story in reply. It involved a man on journey who finds himself in a spot of bother. He has been robbed, beaten and left for dead. A priest comes by, sees him and practically legs it! Another fellow, a Levite also comes by takes one look and carries on. The third guy from Samaria finds the luckless traveller and takes pity on him. He cleans him up, gives him a ride to a hotel and takes care of him overnight.
The next morning he sorts out the bill and tells the manager to put everything on his tab including any other expenses the wounded fellow may incur while the Samaritan is gone.
Jesus then asks who of the three was a neighbour to the victim. The prize for guessing was duly taken by the man of the law who had asked the question in the first place.
Every day, we are presented with opportunities to help those in need but we let them pass us by. Our compassion needs to go beyond our immediate family and friends. Our destiny as Rwandans is shared and while government may create policies to bridge the gap between the ‘have’s and ‘have not’s, we can all contribute on a personal level. Small actions when done in big numbers can have an enormous knock on effect. Malcolm Gladwell, a Canadian writer has expounded this in his book “the Tipping point: How little things make a big difference”. I recommend it to anyone who needs to understand how big changes come about.
A group of young Rwandans have taken the initiative and are leading the way. Led by Isabelle Kamaliza, Solid Africa have made big strides in helping patients in public hospitals by providing support in form of meals, medicines and meeting their hospital bills. This is a great start. We can all take a leaf and support causes close to our hearts.
If you love sports, you could start a football team for orphans or under privileged kids. If you are into music, you could start a choir for widows or the elderly. I am sure we all get the picture; Rwandan solutions to Rwandan problems. Let’s be the change than we want to see in the world!
Contact email: eddieb778[at]gmail.com