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Rwanda’s Umuganda-style clean-up exercise brought to Juba by UN peacekeepers

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<p style="margin:0px 0px 10.66px;">It’s a crisp Saturday morning. The sun is out, and so are close to a thousand Juba-based peacekeepers from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).</p>

Charged and motivated, they have shown-up early, and are ready to start out in a clean-up exercise that is expected to continue frequently with an aim of keeping their environment spotless.

“Clean up, exercise and have some fun” – reads an information flyer for which these peacekeepers have responded to.

It’s an opportune time for UNMISS to launch this clean-up exercise, just a couple of days after the global World Environment Day, which is marked annually on June 5th.

UNMISS announced it was launching its ‘Umuganda Camp Cleanliness Campaign’ “to help make the Mission’s camps and the surroundings cleaner, greener, healthier and more environmentally efficient.”

‘Umuganda’ takes up from Rwanda and can be translated as “coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome.”

Every last Saturday of the month, Rwandans are obliged to clean up their neighbourhoods.  

“If you see any shiny metals or sharp objects, do not collect these; anything suspicious, leave it,” warns Peter Bradbury from the Mission’s Welfare section, speaking to a group of eager faces.

Expected to get their hands dirty, lining up for gloves is necessary. Garbage bags are also being handed out.

Soon, the army of respondents to the clean-up exercise – majority dressed up in their military and police uniform, and others in casual clothing – start out in different locations, collecting every waste along their path.

For this first Umuganda Day, the clean-up exercise was conducted simultaneously in two UNMISS compounds and stretched out into a couple of city streets.

All manner of garbage, from plastic bottles to plastic bags and more, was collected from the roadsides and trenches and piled into black garbage bags.

Among those collecting the foul garbage that is an eyesore and has been choking drainage across the city were Juba city’s Deputy Mayor for Physical Infrastructure and Development, Thiik Thiik Mayardit and the Head of UNMISS, David Shearer.

“It is going to be every Saturday, but we will be engaging the UN to see how they can help us with some of the equipment that we don’t have,” said Mayardit.  “It is important because we want the garbage to be taken to the dumping site,” he added. 

“When you keep the garbage during the rainy season it will cause a lot of problems especially cholera. If that happens it will cause a lot of problems because many people live in areas where there are no hospitals or clinics,” he said.

Offering to see how UNMISS could support the campaign on a regular basis, David Shearer said: “We are out here to help Juba look more beautiful, to help the citizens take away some of the garbage because sometimes there are some problems with disposing of garbage.”

“We want to talk to the deputy mayor about how we can work more closely together in the future and do this,” he said. “Just looking at the streets where we have been picking up rubbish – it looks so much better than it did before, so I am feeling very good about coming here and helping out with the deputy mayor,” he added.

As the clean-up progressed, marabou storks circled above – possibly awaiting their turn to sneak up on a pile of garbage.

“We are very happy that many people turned out today for the cleaning exercise,” said Yong Kuai Korwel from the Mission’s Environment Section.

As part of the clean-up exercise, UNMISS personnel also planted trees.

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