KIGALI, Oct 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Time is a
precious commodity for traders, but Nyirabahi Levistine spares
four hours per month to join community improvement meetings in
Kigali's Nyamirambo neighbourhood.
Every final Saturday of the month, Levistine and her
neighbours meet in a public park for "muganda" - what she
describes as "a cultural practice where people in rural areas
help each other by sharing food, for example, or through
Now the cheerful fruit vendor is among a growing number of
Kigali residents bringing "muganda" to the city to solve
community problems like garbage accumulation, instead of
enduring a sometimes lengthy wait for public services.
The meeting, of about 12 people, starts with a group prayer.
Then the group elects a leader for the day who takes attendance
and assigns duties - such as ensuring street lights work,
collecting garbage or cleaning waterways.
The group reconvenes two hours later to discuss what
progress has been made, what community issues still need to be
resolved, and how much budget is available to do so.
"Those who can (do so) donate time, equipment - such as
shovels - or cash to hire extra help from contractors,"
Levistine told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Hiring a garbage collector can cost between 1,500 and 6,000
Rwanda francs (about $2-8) a day, but Levistine thinks it is a
cost worth paying because it helps young people - who make up
most of the cooperative's contractors - earn an income.
Francis Solinana agrees. His community cooperative, Zibanga
Gacheche (named after its neighbourhood), has been collecting
waste and recycling it into handicraft like baskets for the last
"I co-founded this group so that I could get a job and make
products that promote my culture and are environmentally
friendly," says the 26-year-old. "We don't use plastic, for
FROM COMMUNAL WORK TO BUSINESS
Rangela Bruno, a consultant for the mayor's office in
Kigali, said the city has made progress in managing waste - but
there's still plenty of room for community projects.
"It is small enterprises and initiatives like muganda that
give Kigali its environmental spark," he said.
Community cooperatives have been recycling waste for the
last decade, he explained, with some - such as the Gisozi
cooperatives on Kigali's outskirts - even evolving into big
"Some recycle polythene into farming bags while others turn
organic waste into charcoal and briquettes, for example," Bruno
For now, the mayor's office is supporting muganda
organisations by allowing the groups to meet in public parks,
but it has bigger plans.
"Our next move is to work with the cooperatives and youth to
turn waste into biogas", said Bruno. "I believe it should be
done by the cooperatives because through them youth raise money
and hone their skills."
However, Kigali's poorer communities - especially women -
say they often find themselves unable to run small businesses
due to a lack of finance.
According to the Rwanda Development Board, women's community
initiatives access only about 1 percent of government funding
for small and medium-sized enterprises.
"Women here struggle to get loans because they do not have
collateral like a title deed to act as a guarantee," said Claire
Akamanzi, the development board's chief operating officer.
She hopes the establishment by the government of a business
development fund in 2011 will reduce banks' exposure to unpaid
loans and encourage lending without collateral.
Although Levistine's fresh fruit is keeping her afloat for
now, "I could do with a loan to venture into bigger ventures
like processing environmental waste," she said.
"I have the skills to diversify my business by investing in
waste recycling," she added. "But capital is still hard to come
by for women."
(Reporting by Kagondu Njagi, editing by Zoe Tabary and Laurie
Goering; please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, climate change, women's rights, trafficking and property
rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate)