Volunteer leaders at the grassroots, our unsung heroes

There is a cadre of workers that we take for granted in this country. Few of us really appreciate the profundity of their work’s impact, especially to the ordinary citizen.

There is a cadre of workers that we take for granted in this country. Few of us really appreciate the profundity of their work’s impact, especially to the ordinary citizen.

I was awakened to this truth recently in a conversation with a friend, who is head of Umudugudu. As a village (so-commonly translated into English, a misnomer in the context of a town), Umudugudu is not in the formal administrative structure as it’s a communal voluntary coming-together of neighbours. So, its leaders are volunteers, too.

The self-organisation of neighbours chooses their hierarchy of a volunteer leadership and gives it the powers to be in command. And so the leaders freely exercise the powers to organise Umuganda but also do a lot more.

The enthusiasm of these leaders verges on excitement. For leaders who are not paid for their pains, to sacrifice so much energy and time to fulfil their obligations is nothing short of astonishing.

You will hear one boast about how their village is always the best in everything. There is no insecurity, no theft, no homes with problem couples or children, no clogged culverts, no unclean streets, no poverty case that’s not addressed expeditiously.

During the elections, their polling station was the most beautifully decorated. Their women organisation is the most active, advising one another and together identifying family problems that need solving, always working with men, in evening meetings called “umugoroba w’ababyeyi”.

It’s the same for their youth organisation, for the youth’s specific interests.

And truly, all villages may not be excelling in their performances but it will not be for lack of effort by these village leaders, our unsung heroes.

It’s not that there are no bad apples among these leaders, far from it. But when it comes to implementing government policies, it’s my conviction that they beat some of the paid local leaders at higher levels, hands down.

Always thinking of new ways of making sure any personal or family query is responded to sooner than before, for example, the village leaders have divided up the villages into zones (amasibo). Every zone (isibo) can get together and solve their problem if possible and, if not, the leader takes it to the village level.

So, from zone to village, to cell, to sector, to district,  to province,  to the many government agencies and non-governmental organisations, civil society, et al, all the way to the three arms of government and up to the president, the lowliest citizen and their word ride unhindered. And that’s what makes the village leader’s day.

If you ask me, our villagers may not be opinion leaders but ‘baravuga rikijyana’!

All, of course, will have started at the grassroots. When in my friend’s village recently a helpless old couple announced their son was getting married, close to Rwf1 million was instantly raised through a whatsapp group by the village members. And many graced the occasion.

When an old widow lost her life, the village members garnered just under Rwf2 million, much as they are not rich, and everybody was involved in the bereavement, as one family.

For assistance that villages are not capable of dispensing in their combined effort, the poor and vulnerable, having been identified in name and condition, are forwarded to government programmes in charge of uplifting their state.

It’s thus that the smooth voluntary leadership at the base of our society helps the vulnerable to access all services the central government has laid out. The village members thus feel as empowered as those who count themselves as rich and powerful.

Among these community leaders  who have helped propel the lowly into this feeling are also mediators (abunzi) who resolve simple disputes, as well as health-counsellors (abajyanama b’ubuzima) who advise on healthy living and swiftly connect with health facilities.

The gratitude of the vulnerable groups, in all its innocence, has spread loads of mirth for the elite, especially on social media.

Which maybe should call for a fee to be levied on that free entertainment! The mongers and consumers of this ‘uncopyrighted’ comedy should start coughing up some dosh to help finance those government programmes.

In the model villages spreading in the country by leaps and bounds, for instance, you’ve seen the excitement of an old man over a modern house that was dished to him. No, he says, he had to sleep under the bed at first, until he had repeatedly rubbed himself clean enough to be worthy of his kingly beddings!

Or the old woman who excitedly recounts how she only needs to flip a button and sunlight foods into her house (i.e. electric light). As for cleaning herself, she only needs to twist something and rain falls (shower). Moreover, she need not go far from there for any other ‘convenience’ – (you dig?)

All in all, we should appreciate the contribution of our volunteer leaders in advancing a progressive, egalitarian and democratic Rwanda. For them and the highest levels, we are a happy, united family.

As for our African leaders still choosing hate over a continentally united family, down yonder and elsewhere, one down, how many to soon go?

The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.


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