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
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid