The New Times (Kigali)

22 January 2013

Rwanda: Govt Launches Voluntary National Service Today

interview

PATRIOTISM The government will today launch a voluntary and national service programme dubbed Urugerero. Urugerero is another ancient, custom that has been resurrected and incorporated into our society, spearheaded by Itorero National Taskforce. The New Times' Edwin Musoni, interviewed the chairman of Itorero National Taskforce, Boniface Rucagu.

Excerpts:

'Itorero Ry'igihugu' was established to educate some members of the public about Good governance, national unity, reconciliation, justice, economic development and other social problems affecting the country. - Boniface Rucagu,

TNT: Start by telling us what Urugerero is all about?

Rucagu: Urugerero was part and parcel of Rwandan culture, where young men left their families to heed the calling of the state. They built a strong lasting bond with their peers in the national service that sometimes ended in a blood pact, where one was ready to lay down his life for his colleague and vice versa.

The initiation into Urugerero was not only a rite of passage into manhood; it was also an expression of the high esteem and inherent pride the youth had in their country. They learnt the virtues of patriotism, family values and Ubupfura (a cocktail of all the positive virtues) which they would aim to instill in their off-springs. While the current generation, and several before them, might not feel a strong attachment to the ancient culture, our initiative as Itorero Task Force to reintroduce this age old culture of patriotism is aimed mainly at changing people's perception and focusing on developmental agenda. A true patriot puts the best interests of their country and nationals above self, though this can prove to be a tall order today. Like other home-grown solutions introduced with uncertainty about their success, Urugerero will light the patriotic fires in the hearts of the young generation.

TNT: Briefly give us an insight into the launch of this programme.

Rucagu: This a voluntary service to the public that will be done by Intore - Rwandans, who have undergone the 'Itorero Ry'igihugu', an informal civic education programme without considering their personal gain but what benefits the public in general. At the national level, the launch of the programme is scheduled to take place today in Kigarama Sector, Rwamagana District. But also there will be several launch ceremonies in all sectors and districts across the country.

During the national launch, we will kick off with three activities, ensuring zero new HIV infections, conducting a mini census of illiterate people and constructing houses for teachers. The universal activity will be sensitising the public about HIV prevention while all districts are expected to come up with their programmes.

TNT: How did you develop the idea of Urugerero?

Rucagu: After the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the government of national unity was established with a primary objective of rebuilding the nation. Several national programmes were established. Time came when there was need to review what had been done. In 2007, an overall review of national programmes was done and we realised that we were not getting what we expected, we looked at what would be the cause and the only answer we had was that people still had wrong perceptions and bad attitudes towards all the programmes we were conducting. There was need to come up with a way of changing people's attitudes and we realised that we needed to re-introduce the traditional methods in mitigating Rwanda's socio-economic challenges, that's when we came up with 'Itorero Ry'igihugu' an informal education system. 'Itorero Ry'igihugu' was established to educate members of the public about good governance, national unity, reconciliation, justice, economic development and other social problems affecting the country. After that phase, there would as well be a programme of encouraging the masses to own government programmes, by engaging in public activities.

TNT: And how about Urugerero, what is its significance and how does it come in?

Rucagu: Urugerero is another phase that we are entering now. This phase concerns only Intore who finished their training in December last year. They are now set to go out there and voluntarily work for the people. We have so far trained 40,730 Intore and these are the people who are going to take on the voluntary public service across the entire nation.

TNT: Regarding the programmes you will focus on at the launch, any specific figures on the teachers' houses that you intend to construct?

Rucagu: The government had expressed need for teachers' quarters. Districts are trying to construct houses for teachers in most public schools but this requires some materials like cement and iron sheets. Intore will help in all the physical work including clearing the land, fetching water, carry all other equipment to the construction sites but this will depend on how the district is ready. We don't want Intore to take part in activities that would stall at a certain level because at the end of the programme we will have a presentation of what each Intore did.

TNT: In your campaigns how are you ensuring zero new HIV infections?

Rucagu: We are considering several ways mainly raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and to demonstrate the solidarity in the face of the pandemic. This is an opportunity for Intore to spread awareness about the status of the pandemic and encourage progress in HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care. With our focus on "Zero new infection of HIV", Intore would push for Voluntary Counselling and Treatment as well as encouraging those who are infected not to spread the virus.

TNT: Do you have a mechanism to evaluate Urugerero?

Rucagu; First, we have to monitor these activities and, so far, we have established structures on monitoring and, after that, we will conduct a nationwide evaluation of all the activities. At the closure of the programme, we will document all activities done; we will then award certificates to all Intore who took part. We will equip Intore with skills that would guide them even after the Urugerero programme has ended. After urugerero programme which will last for three months, all Intore will go back to their respective communities, among them university students who will as well go back to school. They will take with them the skills they have acquired and share with other members of 'Itorero Ry'igihugu' who are still in their communities.

TNT: What would you want to say in conclusion?

Rucagu: I call upon all Rwandans to welcome this new initiative as it is for the benefit of all. Local leaders should as well facilitate Intore in realising this great cause. Thank you.

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