Saemaul Undong (SMU), also known as the New Village Movement, was a community-led development programme launched in 1970 by the Government of the Republic of Korea to reduce poverty.
Saemaul Undong (SMU), also known as the New Village Movement, was a community-led development programme launched in 1970 by the Government of the Republic of Korea to reduce poverty. It achieved remarkable results in a short time from 1970 to 1980 in rehabilitation of village infrastructure, significantly increasing household income and improving living standards in rural areas so much so that it narrowed the rural-urban divide. The programme was based on the principles of diligence, self-help and cooperation.
The Saemaul Volunteer Programme (SVP) in Rwanda was initiated in 2010 by the Korea International Cooperative Agency (KOICA) along with the provincial government of Gyeongsangbuk-Do, a province in the eastern part of the Republic of Korea. SVP is aimed at formation of Saemaul pilot villages. The programme is operational in five villages: Mushimba, Kigarama and Gihogwe in the Kamonyi District as well as Gasharu and Raro in the Nyamagabe District. Each village is supported for five years before being phased out. Volunteers from the Republic of Korea live in close proximity to the villages and work with the community and local stakeholders to implement the various activities. More than 70 volunteers have been engaged since the beginning of the programme.
The programme in Rwanda is not a replication of SMU in the Republic of Korea. Rather, KOICA’s programme team is adapting the approach considering Rwanda’s culture, existing government systems and community-identified needs while keeping SMU’s basic principles of diligence, cooperation and self-help intact. In all villages, the first common intervention is Social Development Lecturing (SDL) for changing the mind-set and empowering communities to believe in their own capacities. The SDL focuses on SMU principles, the importance of community action, and understanding community needs in participatory way. The activity planning, consultations, field actions and management are done directly by the communities. KOICA volunteers facilitate community groups to work on interventions identified by the groups through training, demonstration and technical support. The project organizes visits of village/project leaders and sector officials to the Republic of Korea and imparts training on original Saemaul Undong Model to develop better understanding of the concept and its impact.
The main interventions initiated by the communities include (a) construction of a community hall; (b) agriculture and livestock development projects involving, for example, cultivation practices of rice, banana, pineapple and potatoes; (c) marshland development; (d) piggery; and (e) development of business skills, health services and education. The list of planned community activities is always growing. Communities may form independent activity-specific cooperatives (e.g. for rice paddy, banana or piggery) and also committees for education, youth and women. The leads of these cooperatives and committees are called ‘Project Leaders’.
The project identifies key village representatives as ‘Village Saemaul Leaders’ and provides training for them on the SMU approach. These leaders often include the Head of Village (umudugudu), in-charge of village security, in-charge of village information, in-charge of social affairs and in-charge of development.
In each village were SVP is operational, the Village Saemaul Leaders and Project Leaders together form a Saemaul Community. The Saemaul Community meets weekly to decide together activities to be carried out as well as discuss problems facing the community. It also meets every month with the Sector Executive Officer and Cell Executive Secretary to discuss problems that have not been solved at the village level, activities initiated through government as well as any support needs related to community’s ongoing activities.
Community is progressing towards self-reliance: The programme has consistently worked on changing the mindset so that the community can believe in its own ability and not be dependent on others. As a result, communities that once were reluctant to accept the SMU implementation approach now own it.
In Gihogwe village, for example, after learning from Saemaul Volunteers from the Republic of Korea about marshland development and paddy cultivation on a 3ha demonstration plot, community members have invested their own labour (without external wage support) to develop 123ha of marshland. Additionally, during the past four years (2013 to 2016), the community contributed Rwf 46.45 million to purchase land for construction of paddy storage units and to cover the cost of seeds and fertilizer as well as salary payment to the cooperative staff members (e.g. security, water supply technicians and accountant). The average additional income received from paddy cultivation in marshland is about Rwf 175,000 per farmer. Such investment was a change for the community, which attributes this change to their own participation in the selection of activities, cooperation and belief in actions that they have to take rather than depending on outside sources. Today the village of Gihogwe has multiple cooperatives for paddy, banana and piggery – each managed by the community members. They have also contributed to the development of their own community hall and health post. With their additional income, they are investing in children’s school fees, health insurance and newer livelihood activities. They give credit to the initial trainings on Social Development Lecturing and the application of its lessons by the community, which has inculcated a spirit of self-reliance.
Community action for adopting SMU approach is self-propelling: The impact of each community’s effort is multiplied when others learn from their example. In Gihogwe village, for example, when the community and Saemaul Volunteers worked together on a paddy demonstration plot, the wider community experienced the benefits. Not only did those directly involved adopt this new technique, but their fellow farmers within the community also joined in. As noted above, Gihogwe village turned a 3ha demonstration plot in the marsh land into 123ha of paddy zone and creation of a paddy cooperative. People in Gihogwe have become more receptive to new ideas and more confident about expressing themselves. Their work has served as a demonstration to the many farmers and members of cooperatives from other villages who are visiting and learning from them. The paddy cultivation initiative was piloted in the village of Gihogwe and has since spread to nearby villages in the Musambira sector as well as to the adjacent Karama sector. The change signifies that communities are no longer waiting for external support but pursuing their own development.
The Sector Office is advocating the approach: Across the five villages implementing SVP, the Sector Office and Saemaul Volunteer Programme team worked closely from the beginning of the programme. Together they jointly identified vulnerable and poor villages without basic infrastructures for water and electricity or a health centre. The programme trained local authorities on the SMU approach by exposing participants to the SMU work in the Republic of Korea and what can be achieved through it. This has helped in developing common understanding and strengthening collaboration. Further, the Saemaul Volunteer Programme team selected some of the needs to be addressed through the programme from the sector’s performance contract system or ‘Imihigo’ including, for example, kitchen gardens and wood stoves. The team improved on the techniques, which were then taken up by the Sector Office for up-scaling. Today, the Sector Office is a firm believer in this approach as it provides a path to self-reliance, a principle emphasized by the Government of Rwanda.
Should a volunteer programme be more systematized? The Saemaul Volunteers facilitate the community by staying in proximity to villages. They are not technical experts but they learn from the communities in which they are placed, as well as from SVP staff, and they bring their own experience and skills to facilitation. Every 6 to 12 months, however, the volunteers change, which affects the continuity of work. Against this background, it is essential to understand following aspects with reference to engagement of volunteers in the existing model and possible scale up:
― How do volunteers fit in the programme? Is such a role the best option for facilitation or are there alternatives to consider when scaling up?
― Can systematization of the Saemaul process help to ensure continuity of work at the same pace, even after a change in volunteers?
Is the concept of the Saemaul co-worker sustainable? Each government Sector Office has one or two agronomists and/or veterinarians, and it is difficult for them to reach out to all umudugudus. The Saemaul Volunteer Programme recruits qualified young staff to provide technical support to programme activities. However, sustaining these positions after the project period is difficult. Alternatives to this approach may include developing ‘barefoot technicians’ from the community or advocating for the government to provide these services. Also, though the technical understanding of co-workers is good and they are energetic, their capacity in terms of engaging farmers to identify solutions and learn from them might be strengthened through community-based approaches such as the Farmer Field School (FFS).
Moving up in the value chain: The existing community-driven interventions have facilitated improvements in production and organization of communities at the village level. The work has established confidence among community members and also provided more opportunities to engage with markets, especially through cooperatives. In the next stage of Saemaul, however, it will be necessary to consider market demand as well as community capacity with reference to volumes, quality and value addition. Like the SMU approach for piloting paddy cultivation in marsh land, it may be appropriate to explore opportunities in the value chain through which communities can engage and benefit.
Changing the mindset of communities is a process: The trajectory is from expecting hand-outs to self-propelling self-help. This is a challenge in communities accustomed to donor-driven interventions and support such as a stipend for attending trainings, or payment for services of village leaders and facilitators. In contrast, the SMU approach emphasizes self-help, diligence and community cooperation. In the five villages where the Saemaul Volunteer Programme was implemented, it was difficult for community to understand and accept this new way of working, especially when the SVP was newly introduced. Saemaul Volunteers resided in the villages and worked closely with the people, which helped to develop trust. This trust emboldened people to share their needs and ideas and to come to the realization that they are the major stakeholders in the process. In Gihogwe village, for example, community members and Saemaul Volunteers developed more than 60 ha of paddy area without waiting for external support, in the demonstration project described above. The process helped them understand the meaning of mindset change through Social Development Lecturing, and that community initiative and community action are strong forces for success.
The SMU approach makes the programme multi-dimensional: The Saemaul Volunteer Programme does not push a community to work towards specific interventions. Rather, it uses a broad framework based on SMU principles to facilitate community efforts to think about and prioritize their own problems, identify solutions and act on feasible solutions. It starts with one or two activities but soon it captures the range irrespective of specific sector. In Gihogwe village, the community started with paddy cultivation in marsh land and subsequently expanded its activities to include kitchen gardens, clean cook stoves, livestock rearing, banana plantation, education and construction of roads, a health post and a community hall. The programme was multi-dimensional within three years.
Sustainability should be linked with project intervention: SVP take a realistic approach to any intervention, i.e. How the community do this activity? How they will organize the resources? Which technique they will prefer? Solutions for challenges are identified by the community itself or the Saemaul Volunteers facilitate the community to find its own solution. As a result, solutions are never borrowed by the community but evolve with their own thinking. The process ensures ownership by the community at every step, and this leads to sustainability. Thus, the SMU approach emphasizes that sustainability should be planned for from the beginning of the intervention. Sustainability is a priority for the Executive Secretary of the Musambira Sector, Kamonyi District. “Projects with huge resources but not inclusive in understanding community aspiration always fail. Saemaul sows the seed of sustainability in the beginning of intervention by considering community needs, their own solutions and their own actions. Naturally, its expansion becomes self-propelling within and outside the community,” he said.
 The case study is based on meetings with the KOICA team at Kigali, the Executive Secretary of Musambira sector (Kamonyi District), with KOICA’s programme implementation team, and with community members and/or groups at Gihogwe. In addition, it draws on a visit to Gihogwe project areas and a desk review of programme-related documents.
 This calculation is from a report shared with the team of UNDP consultants by CODARIKA, the community cooperative based in the village of Gihogwe, Musambira sector, Kamonyi district.
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