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Lesson from Rwanda: Poverty shouldn't be an excuse to be dirty

By Purity Wanjohi | Jul 12th 2019 | 4 min read

Musanze, Rwanda - November 16, 2018: two men transporting a heavy load of bamboo on a bicycle along the main road, seen from a passing car. [File, Standard]

Two weeks ago, I saw a doormat written, “Did you call first?” I found it to be very funny because it reminded me of a behaviour that human beings have pertaining to house visits.

There are many reasons why people like to be called in advance before they’re visited.

In my experience, I’ve found these three to be on top of the list: The host to be emotionally, physically and mentally prepared, for them to have enough food and finally to be able to clean the house and put it in order.

Recently, I went to Rwanda to visit my friend. The trip was two years in the making so you can imagine my excitement. At the time, the country had been in the news enough times because of how beautiful it was.

As a result, I decided to take an early morning flight so that I could see this the second I landed. To say that I was blown away is an understatement.

By the end of my weeklong trip, which included trips within and outside of Kigali, I had not seen a single piece of litter. And believe me when I say so because I was out looking for mistakes.

I also encountered trees too numerous to count along the roads I took out of town. What was most perplexing to me was their main bus stop.

It was clean, even though it had thousands of people using it daily. When I came back home, I asked myself, “does Kenya need to be dirty?”

In Rwanda I realised that we can be poor, but we don’t have to be dirty.

There’s a disgrace that comes with a dirty environment. The disgrace is present whether you’re rich or poor; honourable or ordinary.

That’s why we like to be called before a visitor arrives.

If anything, they should at least find our homes looking clean. Otherwise we risk tanking our reputations. We’ve also seen it in our country during dignitaries visits.

How many times have we seen our leaders spruce up the roads the dignitaries will use right before they arrive? It’s sad to see that we don’t want a clean environment for ourselves.

We only think about it when we have visitors coming so as to save face. This just shows that if we had no visitors, we would probably drown in our own trash.

If the dignitaries were to make an impromptu visit and drive through undesignated roads, they would be shocked at what they would see and conversely our level of hypocrisy.

Our leaders also spend millions of shillings beautifying right before and after elections to blind us. Dignitaries aside, as a tourist destination, we have people coming to Kenya daily.

What opinion do they have of us when they walk around our beaches, and towns in the outskirts?

You might be tempted to say that you don’t care as long as your house is clean but when they go back home, they don’t go and say that Wanjiku’s house was clean or dirty. They say Kenya. We’re Kenyan, aren’t we?

While we may be struggling with huge issues such as unemployment and corruption, having a clean environment should come naturally to us. When people visit us abruptly, we shouldn’t be forced to make up excuses for or lie about why the general proximity of our house is dirty. We should be able to be proud of the place we call home.

A clean environment is also the first step to solving big problems. A clean environment brings people together and while there you might meet someone with a job opportunity or hear of a possible problem that needs a solution you can provide.

A clean environment promotes good physical and mental health, reduces healthcare problems and attracts businesses thus improving the economy. Therefore, we should commit to keeping our immediate environment clean.

You don’t need the Government to clean outside your house or business. When you and your neighbours keep your compound and businesses clean, a whole street is cleaned.

However, we may find that in spite of its importance, the Government might be reluctant to support our efforts to clean the environment.

It’s here that the critical mass comes into effect. When enough of us demand better litter management services, the Government will have no option but to offer it. After all, it is a basic right.

A clean environment is good for the soul. Let’s do our very best to live, die and be buried in one.

Ms Wanjohi has a Masters degree in Environmental Planning and Management.  [email protected]

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