In Africa, switching from a rural to urban setting most likely comes with socioeconomic challenges, among other trials, unless one already has a source of income or the funds to settle in. It can be completely life-changing given the differences between rural and urban areas; some people fail to keep up with life in cities or towns and end up going back to their villages. It can be even more problematic to move from a rural area to a city as an adult, with no formal education and children to take care of. Such is the case of 58-year-old Marie Goretti Uzabakiriho and her husband who took a leap of faith to move from Huye to Kigali, with their children, to start life in the city—a move that came with many challenges. In Kigali, Uzabakiriho and her husband resorted to doing small jobs at construction sites, and attending to people’s gardens. They currently rent a house in the less affluent part of Gacuriro. ALSO READ: A life in the day of .... A road cleaner The mother-of-five felt the rigours of rural-urban migration, doing difficult work on construction sites for many years, which weighed her down. As she aged, she got weak and was no longer getting jobs at construction sites. She would be left out whenever they picked labourers for the job of the day. She resorted to tilling people’s gardens for a fee, in Kinyarwanda known as ‘guca inshuro’, but even that didn’t last as the work was equally backbreaking and demanding in many ways. Two years ago, she decided to ask for a job at a cleaning company that has a tender to clean the city’s roads. At least, she thought, this would be less strenuous than what she was doing. “They started denying me jobs because they thought I wasn’t energetic enough. I said at least if you give me a broom I can sweep. We were struggling with food and rent. “I got this job and it has helped. It could be little but it helps to pay the bills. My husband does some farm work too, we put together what we earn and eat and pay rent and school fees. It is little but government programmes at the village support us, especially with the education of the children,” Uzabakiriho says. Some of the children are now married, but she still stays with one who lives with a disability, a daughter who gave birth at home, a grandchild and one of her sons. Neither of them have jobs and so they depend on her. A day at work She wakes up at 4:30am, leaves home at 4:45am, by 05:50 she is at her work station. She begins cleaning her section between Nyarutarama and Gishushu by 6am. Like any other employee, she stays at her work station until 5pm. In between, they are given hours to go back home to do some house chores and come back. They have to ensure their section of the road remains clean to the standards expected by the city. A call to duty To her, it is a duty and a job she loves—more like a responsibility— and that, perhaps, is an answer for people who always wonder how Kigali maintains clean roads. “It is a duty. I have to keep watching my section. Anything can happen, sometimes the wind blows and carries leaves and dirt, I make sure I pick them up when I see them. I don’t want to see dirt around,” Uzabakiriho says. “It is now part of me. I don’t just watch over my section. When I am moving around and I see a piece of paper or discarded bottle somewhere, I pick it and take it where it should be. Sometimes I help my colleagues to clean their sections. It is a responsibility,” Uzabakiriho says. The system, she says, is a well-oiled machine, it works so efficiently; if your section is neglected or abandoned, your supervisors get to know and sanction you. These women and men (mostly women), take their duty to keep Kigali roads clean seriously. Equipped with a broom, they sweep the roads, amidst speeding cars, hurtling motorbikes and interrupting pedestrians during the morning rush hour. So focused, they don’t look at people. ALSO READ: Let us keep Kigali street cleaners out of harm's way When they are starting the job, the company gives them a shovel, a big and small hoe, and a bag where they put the collected rubbish to carry it to the collection point. They pick up dried-up leaves falling from withering trees and remove every speck by the pavement. They make the journey to the dumpster where the trash is collected by the trucks of the same company that employs them, to the main dumpsite in Ndumba, Gasabo District. Basically, the districts within the City of Kigali work with solid waste collection companies directly, and it is the companies that engage the street cleaners. Of course, not all is smooth. Previously, cleaners have complained about companies exploiting them and the government often comes in to check their operations to see if indeed the full rights of the cleaners are respected. Ideally, the said companies are also required to organise the cleaners into cooperatives so that they can access other services like small loans from their SACCOs and also accumulate profits on their savings. On average, a cleaner earns a salary of Rwf38,000 a month, which is supposed to be topped up by an incentive from their savings. It is that aspect that wasn’t working well, among other challenges. The cleaners are also categorised under the vulnerable group, which means that they also benefit from government social welfare services in their respective villages and cells, in a way, complementing what they earn. The management aspect seems to have improved in recent years, with the government stepping in to ensure that heads of these companies don’t enrich themselves off the sweat of the women and men who keep the city sparkling. It is not just the government which understands the importance of these people, even motorists in Kigali do. Cars naturally slow down and create enough space between them and the street cleaners, which is why you won’t hear of an accident involving a cleaner. If there has ever been one, it was one of those rare occurrences. The visible green uniforms make them stand out as they go on with their work. It is almost a natural bond between city dwellers and the women and men who do this noble work. That of course doesn’t rule out the danger Uzabakiriho and her colleagues face. “I have to be on the lookout. Sometimes drivers have other things on their minds, maybe they are in a hurry, anything can happen, but God is always with us,” she says. The work itself has its own rigours, working under the heavy sun and rain during the rainy season, but Uzabakiriho says that comes with every work. Each season with its own challenges. Sometimes they are required to do more and put in hours, especially when the country is hosting big events and conferences. It is a culture ingrained in them to maintain high levels of cleanliness. “Cleanliness should be everywhere. If I am cleaning a public road, why shouldn’t I clean my own home? Sometimes I am walking home, I find a place looking dirty, I go and ask around for a broom and clean it and then continue with my journey,” she says. “Cleanliness is a virtue, we should all be able to maintain hygiene on our bodies, clothes and where we live, regardless of our situations,” she said. With old age setting in, Uzabakiriho harbours fear of what the future holds, considering that she still has a lot to take care of. Uzabakiriho’s wish is to see the salaries of street cleaners increase given the cost of living today and the work they put in, but above all, she hopes they can be helped to access loans to do something for themselves “before it is too late.” Regardless of her situation, Uzabakiriho doesn’t want to feel vulnerable or miserable. She is happy with what she does and she takes pride in seeing the roads clean. When she hears people talk about how clean Kigali is, she feels satisfied and happy. She doesn’t underestimate her work. She is happy to receive any support towards bettering her life.