News / Africa

Rwandan Youth Village Flourishes

Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, east of Kigali, is home to 500 orphans. Credit: ASYV
Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, east of Kigali, is home to 500 orphans. Credit: ASYV

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua
It’s been 19 years since the Rwandan genocide. Much has been done regarding reconciliation and rebuilding. But the work continues, including helping those who became orphans during and after the mass killings. At a youth village in Rwanda, more than 100 high school seniors, all orphans, recently passed their national exams to graduate.


It’s called Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. The name is a combination of Kinyarwanda and Hebrew -- Agahozo meaning “where tears are dried” and Shalom meaning “peace.”
Anne Heyman, the founder, said, “I actually was attending a lecture on genocide, and there was a speaker speaking about the Rwandan genocide. This is in the fall of 2005. My husband asked him what was the biggest problem facing Rwanda today? And he said in a country where you have 1.2 million orphans, with a population of 8.5 million people, there really is no future for the country unless you come up with a sustainable solution to the orphan problem.”

Heyman is a South African born lawyer, who now lives in New York City.

Anne Heyman with some of the youth village residents. Credit: ASYVAnne Heyman with some of the youth village residents. Credit: ASYV
x
Anne Heyman with some of the youth village residents. Credit: ASYV
Anne Heyman with some of the youth village residents. Credit: ASYV

“It occurred to me that Israel had had an orphan problem after the Holocaust, and they had come up with a system that reintegrated those kids into society, and they don’t have an orphan problem today. So there really is a systemic solution to dealing with the orphan problem,” she said.

Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village is about an hour’s drive east of Kigali, near the town of Rwamagana. It’s built on land Heywood and supporters purchased from local landowners.

“The philosophy and methodology that are infused in living in the youth village are really geared so that the village as a whole can provide parenting for each kid, even though it’s done, sort of, on a mass scale. We have 500 kids in the village. Everyone gets the kind of support that you or I would give our biological children. Yes, they get food, clothing, shelter and all those things. We’re a high school age community. So, we have a high school where kids really get a top notch state-of-the-art education,” she said.

It’s the Liquidnet Family High School, where all but one of the 118 qualifying seniors passed Rwanda’s national exams a few months ago. It’s the school’s first graduating class. The students are now waiting to see who might get a scholarship or have access to student loans. Those who don’t would have to delay university classes unless they get a job and save some money.

“All of our kids are orphans. So they’ve all gone through some traumatic episode, otherwise, they wouldn’t be orphans. We take the most vulnerable kids in the country. We focus on, as we would do with our own kids, trying to heal their emotional scars; giving them a healthy outlook on life; helping them determine what they want to do with their futures. Our goal is really not to send kids to universities. It’s to help every child maximize their potential. So they’re really looked at as individuals,” said Heyman.

Families consist of 16 youths, along with so-called brothers or sisters, who work at the village. And each family is headed by a mom.

“It’s a staff position at Agahozo-Shalom. We have 32 homes. Each home has a mom. Many of them, the vast majority of them, are women who lost their families during the genocide. And for them, too, the village is a very healing environment. They all say that they have found incredible meaning in their lives and restoring the rhythm of life for these young kids has really been incredibly uplifting for them,” she said.

Each night, there’s family time. For about an hour, members of each family get together to discuss the days events, issues in the village or new information about some sensitive issue.

Heyman said, “Some of our kids are out on the street when we get them. Some of them have drug addictions. Some of them have alcohol addiction. So we have programs for those kids. We have a very serious HIV/AIDS education program. We really work hard at it until every kid who comes through our gate gets tested so that we can deal with whatever we find.”

There are also classes on job skills, such as writing resumes or conducting interviews, and classes on hospitality, computers and modern agriculture.

Heyman said that funding comes mostly from donations and much time is spent drumming up support. She hopes to one day turn Agahozo-Shalom into a self-sufficient village, where small businesses can fund operations.

“If we can fix that last loop, making it self-sustaining in terms of income, then I think we have a tremendous model for development for the world.”

Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village has a statement of philosophy. It reads in part: Each traumatized youth has a past, present and future. Trauma causes a break between the past and present.” Heyman says life in the village is about repair.

You May Like

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More