Friday, July 10, 2009

Agahoza Shalom is Up and Running!

This letter from Anne Heyman, the founder of an orphanage/youth village in Rwanda which she founded after hearing of the plight of African orphans, especially post-genocide in Rwanda. She is a philanthropist with vision, and set about bringing it to reality. I blogged about her when the village was still on the drawing board - how thrilling that the kids have no moved in and it's up and running! She is truly one of my heroes!



From Anne Heyman:
I am writing to you from the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda, where last week we celebrated our official opening. As I sit outside watching the sun rise and listening to the cacophony of bird songs that fill the air I think about something one of our children said to me: At Agahozo-Shalom I have found peace for the first time in my life. I feel it here; the gift of life.

What is it about this place that is so extraordinary? It is a beautiful – stunning really – setting, that is for sure. Our “campus” – the farm, the colorful houses, the school and community center – are unlike anything ever seen in this part of the world. But they are not the miracle or the magic of this place. Children who arrived here 6 months ago quiet and shy, who couldn’t look you in the eye and spoke very little English, not only performed skits, gave speeches, sang songs and danced at our opening ceremony, but they planned it all themselves. Songs to their parents, urging them to rest in peace now; to take comfort in the fact that their children are well taken care of. They assure their parents that they have found a new family and home and will be fine. They tell their parents they will do well and live a good life, and look forward to seeing them at some point in heaven. The children performed a skit about a child who comes to Agahozo-Shalom next year desolate and desperate about the miserable state of her orphan life. In the play they tell her that it is different hear at Agahozo-Shalom and introduce her to her new mother and sisters and brothers. When she is not immediately comforted by their words and embraces they take action: they invite her to join them in games, they draw her out and bring her in through leading by example. They had a debate about which subjects they were going to take in school next year and why – what they can achieve, how they can help their community and their country with their education. And the play and debate were all in English!

When you arrive at Agahozo-Shalom you drive through gates that are painted with the words, in English and Kinyarwanda: “If you see far, you will go far” – one of the many constant themes that are part of our children’s daily lives. The huge, colorful mural outside the community center is the next thing that catches your eye – scenes from traditional Rwanda, from life at Agahozo-Shalom, of the path to the future. The philosophy of the Village, which is all about repair, community, taking responsibility for oneself and doing for others is reflected in everything that is done here: the way the children are spoken to, the programs that are offered and they way they are run, even the way the site is physically laid out. And the results, even in such a short time, are tangible. When you sit in the dining hall at lunch you hear conversations amongst our children taking place in English. Knowing that all higher education in Rwanda now has to take place in English they understand that this is key to their future. Kids who had never seen a computer before they arrived here proudly show you the power point presentations they have learned to do. They tell you about what they want to be when they grow up. They are ambitious and determined. And while many still struggle with the trauma of their past they are getting help and moving forward. And they are so eager to share – and in many cases have already started sharing – what they are learning here with others outside our walls.

This week our children are studying for and taking end of term examinations. As their thoughts turn to vacation, ours turn to next year. What are we going to need to be able to provide this gift to another 125 children whose amazing potential will only be realized if they come to live at Agahozo-Shalom? There are additional staff to be hired – house mothers, counselors, teachers, therapists, kitchen staff. We could use another nurse. And of course all new staff need to be trained in our philosophy and methodologies: Everyone at Agahozo-Shalom is expected to be an educator. The physical needs – beds, closets, desks, sheets, towels, personal supplies, dining hall furniture, school supplies and furnishings - are significant too. Our science labs (physics, biology and chemistry) need to be fully equipped; we are certainly going to need many more computers. In the doom and gloom of world news today Agahozo-Shalom is truly a shining light; a beacon of hope for so many. More than that, we are establishing a replicable model, one that soon will become a teaching and training center for others. There is no doubt in my mind that many of our students will be instrumental in bringing this model to many others, who, without a place like ours, would have no future. You can play an important part in making this happen. Whether your gift is large or small, in cash or in-kind, it will make a significant difference in the lives of so many. Please visit us on-line at agahozo-shalom to make your contribution.

As I close this letter I would like to let you know that our visitor houses are nearing completion – and they have hot water! We are putting together a program for short term volunteer groups. If your college, synagogue, church or other organization would be interested in an educational/volunteer experience in Rwanda, please contact tina@agahozo-shalom.org.

From the hills of Agahozo-Shalom I wish you Amahoro – Peace – and I thank you for standing up and being counted amongst those who are truly changing the world.

Anne Heyman

Founder, Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village

1 comment:

Philip Jones said...

BPT: Thanks for this post. I wanted to see the web site for the village, but the link you have is bad. What appears as the link is correct, but what's actually behind is xxx.com, instead of xxx.org. Easy to fix.