New service project in Concord gives neighbors a chance to come together

  • Pastor Clement Kigugu during a service March 22, 2020. For Kigugu, the executive director of the Overcomers Refugee Service in Concord, the day is not only about volunteering but also a time for bonding. Monitor file

  • Pastor Clement Kigugu and his wife Esperance sing at the Christmas eve service of the Overcomers Church of God held at the United Baptist Church on Fayette Street in Concord. The service lasted until the early morning of Christmas day.(GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff)

Monitor staff
Published: 6/23/2022 3:06:31 PM

On the last Saturday of each month, Clement Kigugu would gather with members of his community in Rwanda for a day of service.

This monthly event was called Umuganda, a Kinyarwandan word that means “coming together for a common purpose to achieve an outcome.” This Saturday, Umuganda will come to Keach Park in Concord.

The community service project will include painting a mural, planting a pollinator garden and cleaning up the area. Lunch and music will follow.

For Kigugu, the executive director of the Overcomers Refugee Service in Concord, the day is not only about volunteering but also a time for bonding.

“Putting the community together, it’s really my goal,” Kigugu said. “I need the new American community to be integrated into the community, but also the receiving community to be integrated into the refugee or the new Americans community. And the way to do, is for people to be together and talk and share their experience.”

Since coming to the United States from Rwanda in 2006, Kigugu has helped many new Americans settle into their new home, like Claudine Umurutasate.

Umurutasate, arrived in Concord in 2014 at the age of 17 from Rwanda. She recalls her parents participating in monthly service days when she was a child.

“When you participate in Umuganda, you get to talk to each other and ask questions,” she said.

She remembers arriving the United States and finding it hard to meet people as many neighbors stayed inside after work or school.

“People are in their houses with their door closed and it is hard to communicate, which is different from Rwanda,” she said. “In the neighborhood [in Rwanda] you know your neighbors and you feel comfortable going to their doors.”

She and Kigugu hope Umuganda will fill a void in the community, providing an organized event for neighbors new and old to come and simply get to know each other.

“The more they interact with New Americans, the more they know who they are, and then also the new American community when they interact with the receiving community more they understand their culture,” Kigugu said. “That’s the way people should really live together.”

Local artist Jozimar Matimano, who came to the United States from Uganda in 2016, designed a mural with help from a group of New Americans who live in Concord Heights. Painting the mural will be one of the projects Saturday

Participants will also plant a pollinator garden in the park designed by Leslie van Berkum, a board member at Overcomers Refugee Service and the former owner of a nursery in Deerfield.

Although service projects in Rwanda could be more elaborate, like repairing a broken bridge or cleaning the streets, van Berkum is excited about the slate of activities scheduled for Concord’s first Umuganda.

“A mural adds beauty and the garden also adds beauty, but is good for the environment,” she said.

“It is a really nice balance of activities and hopefully we will get people out,” she added.

Organizers hope this will become a yearly event, which provides ample time for meaningful work and meeting other the people.

“You forget about your regular job. You forget about the stress that you have in your house,” Kigugu said. “You are with other people, and your focus is the thing that you’re doing.”

If you go

Saturday, June 25 in Keach Park, Concord from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (planting, painting and clean up begin at 10, with lunch and music to follow at 12:30).


MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Michaela Towfighi is a Report for America corps member covering the Two New Hampshires for the Monitor. She graduated from Duke University with a degree in public policy and journalism and media studies in 2022. At Duke she covered education, COVID-19, the 2020 election and helped edit stories about the Durham County Courthouse for The 9th Street Journal and the triangle area's alt-weekly Indy Week. Her story about a family grappling with a delayed trial for a fatal car accident in Concord won first place in Duke’s Melcher Family Award for Excellence in Journalism. Towfighi is an American expat who calls London, England, home despite being born in Boston.



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