Almost everyone in the village of Gitwa has a toilet. This is quite something considering that Gitwa is a hard-to-reach village of around 1000 people in the mountains of southern Rwanda. A quarter of families don’t have electricity and nobody has a car; but only eight households in the entire village are without a toilet.
Numbers are meticulously counted because the Government has issued strict targets: anything from the number of adults who should be taught to read, to the number of cows to inseminate. The Government’s aim is for everyone to have clean water and a toilet by 2030.
The other big change that has come to Gitwa is new houses. In 2009, the Government launched a campaign to replace all grass-roofed huts with solid, permanent structures to boost the image of Rwanda as a modern society. Corrugated iron roofs represent progress.
Not everyone in Gitwa can afford to replace their roof or build a new toilet - the most desired is a flush toilet installed in the home. But Rwandan society is very ordered, with a culture of self-help and co-operation. There is even a designated day for doing good works. The last Saturday of every month is set aside for ‘umanganda’ community service, when neighbours come together to clean streets, and do odd-jobs for the needy. Where necessary, help is offered more often.
In Gitwa, villagers come together to work on projects once a week. The village leader also holds a meeting twice a week for people to air their problems, such as annoying neighbours who encroach on other people’s land to grow crops, or who allow their goats to rampage out of control. The aim is to stop battles from escalating.
All sorts of people benefit from umanganda, but older women who live alone, in particular, are targeted. One of the consequences of the 1994 genocide, is there are many more widows than widowers in Rwanda. With no family to turn to, the lives of many older women can take a turn for the worse. They might have to make do with a sub-standard toilet, one with a leaking grass roof or, worse, no toilet at all. But in Gitwa, friends and neighbours make sure they have a place to go which is sturdy and safe.