By Anne Heyman, Founder of Agahozo-Shalom
It is October again, and that means the end of another school year at Agahozo-Shalom. As usual at this time of year the management team from New York meets with the management of the Village to review the past year, examine where we are and look at what needs to happen for us to move forward next year. We are fortunate enough to be joined once again by an amazing team of volunteers from Liquidnet Holdings, Inc. who not only help facilitate our meetings but also will also work with their counterparts in Village to strengthen the skills and practices in the various departments. Today was our first full day of working sessions in the Village, and it was a good one. But the greatest part of the day was, as always, a completely unexpected gift: Today happened to be the day that one of the tikkun olam groups were giving the keys of a house they had built to the poor widow whom they had built it for, and if we wanted to come along for the small ceremony.
We arrived at the widow’s house which, like many homes in Rwanda is down a windy dirt path which passes for a road. The usual group of little kids arrived as if out of nowhere, gleefully laughing and pointing at the “muzungu”. I always enjoy interacting with these kids, whose joy at the littlest things is really infectious. I felt especially privileged to be here today as I had been lucky enough to be at the Village in July when this group began working on the house, and I had accompanied them on one of their tikkun olam (community service) visits then. I learned from them how to make mud bricks, and as always counted myself lucky to have shared in the experience. The widow was lying on a straw mat beside her current home, if you can call it that, and was clearly not feeling very well. Nevertheless she was very happy with what these amazing kids have done for her, and told us how pleased she was that she would no longer have to feel the rainwater dripping onto her through the banana leaves which pass for a roof. The kids explained to the visitors how they had gone about the process of making the bricks and building the house, which has a door which can lock as well as a tin roof with a rain gutter. They also told us how, after the widow moves into her house they will knock down the little round hut she now calls home and help her plant a vegetable garden, assuring that she will be able to eat in the months ahead.
I am so proud of these kids, and they should truly be so proud of themselves. What an amazing thing it is to know that as long as you have the desire and you are willing to put some hard work you are truly capable of changing someone’s life.
Tomorrow its back to the “work” of running the village – more meetings, more training sessions, more strategic planning. It is so much easier when you are reminded about the results of your efforts in such an incredible way. We set out to change the lives of children who, through no fault of their own, were facing incredibly bleak futures. We knew that our methodology would help to heal them and open passages for them that they could never contemplate before. But we couldn’t imagine how they would transform the lives of so many others long before they left the village. I want to thank the children of Agahozo-Shalom for taking me on this incredible journey with them.
Anne Heyman, Founder of ASYV, wrote this article about a wonderful day during a recent trip to the village.
Once again I find myself waking up at the crack of dawn – literally – and I lie in bed listening to the wind in the banana trees which sounds like rain but not really, because here in Rwanda it’s the dry season. With rain being highly unlikely, the sun peeking in your windows and all the birds chirping their early morning singing songs….you know it’s just another day in paradise. You may think that is an exaggeration, but if you haven’t been here yet, you cannot even imagine how beautiful it is. And if you are a nature lover….let me tell you about what I did today.
At lunch I was approached by Fidel, the head of the Environment Club, and he asked if it would be possible for some of the students in the environment club to take me on a walk through “the Park” – the newly designated conservation area which visitors to Agahozo-Shalom can now take a guided walk through. I am told that so far over 200 students have worked on or participated in the creation of the nature trail, which is still under construction and in doing so they have all been exposed to the importance of protecting our environment (as well as the fun you can have in doing so!) Starting at the back of the school, where 4 state of the art large greenhouses are sprouting all kinds of plants (it’s been a long time since I tasted such a delicious tomato) we followed the fence line until we saw the sign: Agahozo-Shalom Nature Park. The whole way leading up to the entrance I was learning about why caring for our environment is so important from the 5 members of the Environment Club who undertook to give me my tour! Turning left onto the trail I was shown a one page “map” of some of the plants, trees, birds and wildlife I could possibly encounter. I am pleased to report that were no pictures of lions or baboons on the page; although there was the chance of encountering an Ichneumon Mongoose (who I am told are good because they eat snakes….and we did in fact not encounter any snakes on the path!) Immediately after stepping onto the path we were surrounded by butterflies of all types, and it was explained to me how important they are for pollination. An acacia tree led to a discussion about the different types of acacia trees, and which ones were used traditionally for church gatherings under the shady trees.
Innocent, Paulina, Leonard, Fidel, and Anne-Marie followed in short succession; with a discussion of each types of plant, the Kinyarwanda name, the English name and the scientific name all being provided. Despite the fact that it was 2:30 in the afternoon we were treated to encounters with Speckled Mousebirds, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eaters, and a Bateleur Eagle, just a few of the over 125 species of birds which have been documented at the village by our resident bird expert and erstwhile volunteer, Jared.
(For those of you who are serious bird watchers, we are proud to let you know that Agahozo-Shalom is one of the few places where you can regularly spot Sooty Chats, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eaters, and Yellow-throated Longclaws).
Agahozo-Shalom is a village of hope, a village of learning, a village of promise and change. And it is a village filled with delightful surprises: Kids who have amazing voices, traditional poetry written by young people with old soles, wonderful murals painted by our resident artists, homemade potato chips (ok not that often but when we do get them…I have never tasted any potato chips so delicious)….and now there is one more….our very own very special nature preserve…..complete with a guided tour that I guarantee you will never forget.
This year, the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village welcomed in a third class of 125 students, bringing the total to 375. Last June, the A.S.Y.V.'s football field was completed; the ribbon-cutting was performed by Rwanda's minister of sports and culture, and attended by various government officials as well as the Rwandan National Football Team. In August, the Village's amphitheater was inaugurated with a ceremony that included a play; a fashion show; and dance, hip-hop and choral performances. Construction was also completed on several new buildings, including a state-of-the-art science center, an art and music center, a health clinic, and an administrative building, as well as four greenhouses and a plant nursery near the High School for students concentrating in the sciences. The Ministry of Agriculture donated a tractor for the farm, and 200 computers given by the government of South Korea are currently being set up. In addition, a beautifully landscaped plaza in the center of the Village is nearing completion.A cow on the farm gave birth to a new calf recently, which has joined many other animals, including about 1,200 chickens. The chickens produce upwards of 500 eggs every day once they start laying. The Tikkun Olam Club, one of the Village's many student organizations, has been very active in doing community service; among their projects from this past year were teaching English to students at nearby Rubona Primary School and rebuilding the homes of vulnerable people in the area. The Village's Debate Club held a formal debate on affirmative action for women in Rwanda and discussed many other issues, from drugs to the value of education to NATO's involvement in Libya. Agahozo-Shalom teams competed in Rwamagana District's interscholastic sports finals, and won three trophies — in basketball, football and volleyball — over much more experienced teams. Kids from A.S.Y.V. also participated in local elections, taking the opportunity to learn about the electoral process and their civic responsibilities.The Village has also played host to student groups from Tufts University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Wisconsin, and several employees of Liquidnet Holdings Inc. visited as well to lend their professional expertise. Dr. Aissa Kirabo Kakira, governor of Rwanda's Eastern Province, visited Liquidnet Family High School recently, praising both the staff for creating such a special opportunity and the students for taking such full advantage of it.
In the rolling hills of Rwanda, Agahozo-Shalom is preparing for the arrival of 128 new students next week! With the beginning of our third year just days away, the number of students living at Agahozo-Shalom will be 378, with nearly 100 staff members teaching, mentoring, supporting and guiding helping the students to heal their past and build successful happy lives.
Last week, 11 long term volunteers arrived from around the world to begin their year of professional service at the Village. The volunteers will be supporting the Village in diverse areas including agro-business, construction, music, art, dance, English teaching, Administrative support and more.
It's sure to be another amazing year at Agahozo-Shalom!
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Stay tunes for more updates!
The students at Agahozo-Shalom returned to the village in mid-August to start their third and final semester of the year. So much has happened in the past month!
With the help and generosity of a group of students from Bet Elazraki High School in Israel, Agahozo-Shalom now has a beautiful new bike shed, and several bikes for the students to use. Not only are these bikes an incredible convenience, but the students are learning valuable life skills about how to assemble, care for and maintain the bicycles.
This past week, the Village also officially opened its amphitheater which has a beautiful view overlooking Lake Mugesara. The amphitheater features beautiful public art by the students of the village, and is painted with the quote,
"Akuzye Umutima Gasesekara Kumunwa", or "Restoring the Rhythm of Life" in Kinyarwandan.
Finally, Jeannette Kagame, the First Lady of Rwanda, came to visit the village on September 23. The students performed music and dance in her honor and she spoke glowingly of the village.
You can read more about her visit here:
The students are getting ready for midterms. And new long-term volunteers and students are getting ready to come to the village in December. By then, we will have 375 students at Agahozo-Shalom!
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