Dec 15, 2020

Amiga Tells Her Story

Amiga and her friend and classmate Deborah
Amiga and her friend and classmate Deborah

At our first Virtual Village Time event in October, Amiga, a third-year student at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, bravely stood up in front of more than 400 guests from around the world to tell her story. She spoke about what ASYV has meant to her and what she hopes to achieve now that she has returned to the Village. This report shares her story, one of strength and resilience in the face of great adversity.

Life before Amiga came to ASYV was difficult. She and her older brother were raised by a single mother who sometimes struggled to meet their daily needs. Limited funds meant her brother’s education came first, and Amiga was repeatedly chased out of class because her mother had not been able to afford her school fees. Amiga tells us that her admission to ASYV, where she could earn a secondary school education without having to worry about the cost, was “a blessing.” Together, new academic opportunities and extracurricular activities like soccer, karate, and the women’s empowerment club Girl Up showed Amiga that she has the talent and potential to achieve her dreams while helping those most in need. ASYV also encouraged Amiga to develop rewarding relationships with her family mama and the girls in her student family. Over time, they built a profoundly meaningful bond. According to Amiga, “the first time I had a tough day, [my family mama] noticed I was quiet and asked me what was wrong… You wouldn’t know how such a small thing touched my heart, that she would notice and care so much.” It was this family connection that helped Amiga weather the past eight months away from ASYV. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced our students to return to their home communities back in March, Amiga grew concerned that she might come to feel as though she had been abandoned by ASYV. It was difficult not to feel powerless and uncertain about the future. While reading books and writing poetry helped to lesson these feelings of worry and isolation, it was the open line of communication she maintained with her teachers and family mama that showed her she is not alone.

As our students make their way back to the Village, with Rwanda’s schools now reopening, Amiga is “filled with joy.” Hoping to one day become a therapist, a career which she believes will allow her to help people “work through their pain,” Amiga is looking forward to studying hard and applying for scholarships. We are thrilled to welcome Amiga back, and we look forward to seeing what she accomplishes in the years ahead. We have every confidence that she will be a force for love and healing in Rwanda.

We hope you enjoyed this brief look into Amiga’s story. If you would like to watch a recording of Amiga delivering her remarks during our Virtual Village Time event, we invite you to clink the link below, entitled “Amiga’s Remarks”. If you would like to watch a recording of the full Virtual Village Time event, we invite you to click the link below, entitled “Virtual Village Time”. And if you would like to read a brief interview given by Amiga in her first year at ASYV, we invite you to click the link below, entitled “Meet Deborah and Amiga”. We thank you for your compassion and generosity, which makes all of this possible. Murakoze cyane (thank you very much)!

Amiga speaks during Virtual Village Time
Amiga speaks during Virtual Village Time
Students return to ASYV
Students return to ASYV

Links:

Jul 6, 2020

ASYV Responds to COVID-19

The 2019-2020 Student Government Inauguration
The 2019-2020 Student Government Inauguration

Rwanda faces a serious challenge in COVID-19. With a limited capacity for testing and a low supply of hospital beds, a significant outbreak could put much of the population at risk. When Rwanda’s first positive case was confirmed on March 8, the Rwandan Government responded quickly to contain the virus. This response required the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYV) to send our 504 students home to their parents and guardians. Since then, we have been working hard to keep our students safe and healthy, protecting them from hunger and homelessness while preparing for their eventual return to ASYV.

To help reduce the rate of transmission and protect Rwanda’s students, the Rwandan Ministry of Education ordered all schools to close on March 16. ASYV was given only 30 hours to comply with this directive, but we were able to provide students with certain essential items before their departure. Girls received a one-month supply of sanitary pads and HIV+ students received a one-month supply of antiretroviral medication. Students living in child-headed households received a financial supplement. On March 21, the Rwandan Government took an additional step to safeguard public health by initiating a national lockdown. Between March 21 and April 30, individuals were only allowed to leave their homes for essential activities like buying food and seeking medical attention. While this lockdown protected our students from the virus, we quickly found that it had also increased our students’ vulnerability to food and housing insecurity.

After our students returned home, we worked to identify their needs and how best to support them. Our student government joined in, using phone calls, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp to gather information, share helpful resources like handwashing tutorials, and check on student safety. Thanks to these efforts, we learned that 175 of our students were at serious risk of food insecurity, eating one meal per day or less, and that all of our students would benefit from food supplementation. We also learned that many of our students were at risk of losing their homes, with the lockdown making it more difficult to pay for rent or home repairs. After speaking with humanitarian aid experts at American Jewish World Service, we determined that the best way to help was to begin providing basic necessity aid. Since April, we have been sending monthly cash installments to our students and their families. Delivered via Mobile Money app, each of these installments should be enough to purchase three weeks of food, depending on family size, and pay for rent or urgent home repairs. We expect to continue this aid until our students can return to ASYV.

While our students are home, we have also begun preparing for schools to reopen. COVID-19 interrupted the Rwandan school year, which normally runs from January to November. With most students unable to access remote learning resources, the Rwandan Ministry of Education has decided to compensate for this interruption by restarting the current school year in September 2020. To prepare for this shift and ensure our teachers are ready to provide the support our students will need to recover from this gap in education, we are currently planning to digitize much of our curriculum. This should help our teachers deliver an increasingly student-centered learning environment and prepare us for any future instances of social distancing. We have also formed a Critical Incident Committee to guide ASYV’s response to COVID-19. Comprised of medical professionals, this committee will work to ensure that ASYV can provide a safe living and learning environment when students and staff members return to the Village in September.

We hope you found this brief look into ASYV’s response to COVID-19 informative. If you would like to learn more about our students, we invite you to click the links below to follow ASYV on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Thanks to your steadfast support, our students have access to the resources they need to recover from past traumas and build dignified lives as active participants in Rwanda’s ongoing development. From all of us at Agahozo-Shalom, murakoze cyane (thank you very much)!

Members of Student Government discuss COVID-19
Members of Student Government discuss COVID-19
Student Government delivers handwashing tutorials
Student Government delivers handwashing tutorials

Links:

Feb 10, 2020

The Students of ASYV Commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Yael shares her grandmother's story with ASYV.
Yael shares her grandmother's story with ASYV.

In just 100 days, from April to July, approximately one million people were systematically killed in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. While the current students of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village are too young to have lived through the genocide itself, the traumatic consequences of genocide last for generations. Our students have grown up in a society once devastated by violence, and they appreciate the power of remembrance to heal and unite communities. It was in this spirit that our students decided to organize ASYV’s first commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

After David Ndagijimana, one of ASYV’s history teachers, returned from a recent training on Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, he decided to teach a class on the importance of studying and understanding genocide in the prevention of future genocides and mass atrocities. This class showed his students a profound connection between communities who have experienced genocide, a connection they felt needed to be shared with their peers. Inspired by this learning opportunity, student leaders organized an event for the entire Village on January 27, 2020, the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Two of ASYV’s international fellows, Yael and Hannah, opened the event by sharing their families’ stories. As descendants of Holocaust survivors, they gave our students insight into the history of the Holocaust and what it meant for them, personally. Isano Isangiwe, ASYV’s theater club, followed this with a dramatic telling of the story of the ghettos, concentration camps, and death camps used by the Nazi regime in the Holocaust. Afterwards, students asked questions about the events that precipitated the Holocaust and discussed parallels between these two histories. Yael further contributed to this discussion by encouraging conversations on relevant and valuable lessons, including the importance of humanizing victims of violence and making ethical choices in difficult situations. By including personal accounts and engaging our students in the history of the Holocaust, the commemoration gave everyone, students and international participants, a deeper understanding of genocide and what that history means for all of us.

Commenting on the event, Deborah, ASYV’s Student Government President and one of David Ndagijimana’s history students, remarked, “The way I commemorate the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi is also the way I should commemorate the Holocaust, because I know the heaviness and sadness that it brings to the country and the people…and to those who lost their families during the genocide.”

Deborah and her fellow student organizers believe this day showed their peers how to learn from history, and how to prevent past mistakes from happening again. They are committed to honoring the victims of genocide, and to building a brighter future for their country and the world.

We hope you found this brief look into our recent participation in International Holocaust Remembrance Day meaningful. If you would like to learn more about our students and their community, we invite you to click the links below to follow ASYV on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Thanks to your steadfast support, our students have access to the learning and healing resources they need to recover from past traumas and build dignified lives as active participants in Rwanda’s ongoing development. From all of us at Agahozo-Shalom, murakoze cyane (thank you very much)!

Teachers present on the history of the Holocaust.
Teachers present on the history of the Holocaust.
Students watch Isano Isangiwe's performance.
Students watch Isano Isangiwe's performance.

Links:

 
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