The goals of the ASYV farm are to provide food for the Village (over 35% of the food consumed comes from the ASYV farm), offer students hands-on, educational opportunities in farm work and methodology, and to support the Village financially through harvest sales. A variety of crops are produced in the ASYV farm including Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, eggplant, squash, green beans, tomatoes, pineapple, watermelon, beans, peanuts, bananas, avocados, coffee, plantains, cabbage, and mangoes. Furthermore, the Village has over 15 Friesian cows that produce over 75 liters of milk a day for the students’ breakfast porridge. Every Saturday morning, the ASYV students work on the farm in order to gain valuable hands-on experience. Over 80% of the population in Rwanda is dependent on agriculture. With the skills our kids gain at the ASYV, they will be able to help bring modern farming techniques to the Rwandan population.
Recently, we caught up with Jimmy Ndatimana, our Farm intern to find out more about his journey through the Village.
"I come from the Ruhango district in the southern province of Rwanda. Before arriving at the ASYV, I lived with my two brothers. Initially, my eldest brother acted as head of my household but I was required to take over that responsibility after he was poisoned and consequently suffered mental health issues. It was my duty to look after both him and my younger brother, Louis
In order to provide for my family, I began using the small amount of land we had to cultivate crops that I would later sell at our local market. I’d grow rice, beans, cassava and Irish potatoes. Sometimes, I would also purchase small livestock such as chickens and then sell them on for a small profit. I'd also use some of the produce to feed the family.
I arrived at the Village in 2012, joining the Ingenzi grade which recently graduated. I noticed that there were plenty of opportunities here to learn new skills in farming through the environment club and agriculture professional skills program. It was through these programs that I gained expertise on how to successfully cultivate a plot of land. During my time in the Village, I initiated a number of projects which included growing crops that had never before been cultivated on the land here.
Soon, I became elected the class representative of the agriculture professional skills program and was selected as an advisor to kids in the environment club.
After graduating, I was appointed as the Farm intern with the responsibility of overseeing all workers that tend to the crops and livestock within ASYV’s premises. I’m also developing new projects including the cultivation of passion fruit. Furthermore, I am in charge of organizing all farm activities which take place every Saturday morning.
When my internship here has finished, I plan to study agriculture at university in order to enhance my knowledge and experience. Eventually, I’d like to manage my own farm and sell my produce to larger consumers. For now, I am using all of the skills I learned at ASYV to make the most of what I currently have - growing banana trees, rice, and maize on my small farm back home."
Ornella Rwanziza was selected as the valedictorian of Ishema grade. As a four-time National Debate Champion and the Founder of Agahozo-Shalom’s chapter of Girl Up, a United Nations-affiliated club focused on women’s empowerment, she is truly a leader. A source of pride to her fellow graduates, and an inspiration to us all, Ornella made her mark during our graduation ceremony by delivering an incredible speech. For your enjoyment, a transcript of her speech is included below:
“Educating someone requires patience. We thank our dear educators, parents, guardians and families for being patient with us and for bearing our imperfections. Education is freedom, but the locks of that opportunity were tightened every day before we came to The Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. Our educators at Agahozo-Shalom removed these barriers and un-cuffed us.
You taught us how to be wise. You taught us how to pick ourselves up after failure and rise again. You taught us to be responsible citizens; you taught us how to be children in small families and one, large ASYV family. You taught us how to stand up and speak out against injustice.
You taught us not to be afraid of those who are different from us; you taught us that our differences don’t tear us apart, but they instead give us the opportunity to experience diversity which gives life to new ideas, innovation and beauty. You taught us that our greatness lies and will always be in each other’s strengths as long as we continue learning from each other.
We can’t thank you enough and we know you don’t expect us to pay you back, but we aspire to make you proud by giving back to the world through Tikkun Olam, a value we’re all taking home to heal those with broken hearts and make the change we want to see.
We recognize the Founder of The Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, Anne Heyman, and all the board members and donors, who believed and saw the best in us when we didn’t know how gifted we are. May our continued work of Tikkun Olam pay lasting tribute to Anne Heyman and may her memory always be a blessing.
I want to thank Jenna Merrin immensely for being here with us today; you came to represent your father and your brothers Jason and Jonathan. We thank you, and we love you. I also want to express our deepest gratitude to our Board Chair Laurie Franz. She was not able to be with us today, but we know she is with us at all times. We are happy to have with us another one of our board members, Mr. Bertrand Kayiranga. Tonton, thank you for being with us today; it means so much to us.
When I came to Agahozo-Shalom, I was a shy girl, shy in my body, my mind and my actions. When I got here, ASYV showed me the miracles that come to life when you believe in yourself.
I realized that girls did not fully understand their potential, and I knew what women who come together can do. I dreamed of the impact we could have on each other and our communities. So, my friends and I founded a Girl Up club to educate girls and help them build the self-confidence and self-advocacy that society refused us at our early ages.
We’ve organized fundraisers for fellow disadvantaged girls; we’ve organized a national public speaking competition; we’ve led workshops and discussions so that girls can be proud of being who they are. Now, our next move is leading a nation-wide campaign to raise awareness about menstruation, which is largely overlooked.
No matter how far we have come, we’ve all made it here today. This is a combination of persistence, support, commitment, hard work, sacrifice and studying late nights and early mornings. Yet, we still found time to give back to our community by building houses and beautifying our school: the charity painting!
We also participated in and led all kinds of clubs and initiatives. Oh my friends, we rose to the challenge and excelled in what we did. We’ve won countless honors and awards; among us, we have black belt holders, two times national debate champions, award-winning traditional dancers who uphold our cherished Rwandan culture, (if I might call you) professional theater and film actors and actresses, computer geeks and physics geniuses, aspiring politicians and business owners.
Looking in these graduates’ eyes, I see constellations. If you connect the dots you can trace the true shape of success, change, transformation, determination, hope and commitment. In their eyes I see the same lights that guided our heroes to liberate our nation; I see the courage that made Malala stand up for what she believed in. I see them, I see the future.
Graduates, we have come from the worst; we experienced what no other high school students would ever imagine happening to them. But we should never be pulled down by those struggles. Our stories are the ladders that make it easier for us to touch the stars. So climb and grab them, grab them.
Graduates, we were not born to be common, we were born to be comets. Light up the world with your luminous light.Graduates, with our deep commitment to our communities, we all reflect the purpose of the school founding, but more importantly we possess the very hopes and dreams of our nation.
For our younger brothers and sisters, what Ishema grade did was good but not enough. We want you to keep maximizing your potential and go the extra mile. We hope you have learned from us, and as a Rwandan proverb says, “Wigisha intore guhamiriza bwacya ikakurusha. [If you teach someone how to dance, the next day they’ll be better than you].” That’s what we expect from you.
Graduates, don’t be trapped by “the real world. Explore your potential and continue to let the love of discovery and learning develop you. Look around for opportunity wherever you are.
You deserve all the possible successes, but with those, let me repeat that we have an obligation to fulfill. Reach back to the most disadvantaged in your communities and always strive to do what’s right.Raise your voices to speak out for the unheard and silenced – that should be our mission.
Lift your voices until you have covered every hole in the next generation’s broken sky by our country’s dark history of 1994, so they know their celestial potential. We have lived in the black holes of our nation, absorbing everything without allowing our light to escape, but those days are done. We belong among stars and so do those to come after us.
Graduates, we are the pride of our nation Rwanda. We are the new change, and together we can inspire galaxies of generations to come. The sky is just the beginning.”
On behalf of everyone at Agahozo-Shalom, we hope you enjoyed Ornella’s stirring words as much as we did. If you would like to read about Ishema Grade’s graduation ceremony, please check the rest of our blog for more.
The Agahozo-Shalom community was filled with excitement as it prepared to send off ten beautiful and talented representatives to ASYV’s annual Stand-Up and Be Counted event in New York City (May 5) and to introduce the celebration to Boston, Massachusetts (May 8). The Village is so proud of this year’s Stand-Up cohort, and knows that they will embody the spirit of ASYV as they make their journey across the Atlantic. For many, this trip will be the first time they leave Rwanda and for all, it is a journey that marks their incredible transformation from the vulnerable youth they entered the Village as, to the educated global citizens they are becoming.
The Stand-Up students are not taking this opportunity lightly. They dedicated their three-week school vacation to prepare for the event. Since school resumed on Monday, April 28th, the entirety of the ASYV student body has known where to find the Stand-Up kids - rehearsing in the amphitheater, biding their expectations, and attempting to calm their nerves.
I sat in on one of these rehearsals in the Village amphitheater and was, as has become the norm, blown away by what I witnessed. Outfitted in their custom-fit dresses and suits stood nine individually talented youth who gracefully complimented one another on the stage. Together they practiced a song entitled, “You Were Chosen,” written by this year’s Stand-Up participant Innocent Nzayisenga, in the memory of our late grandmother, Anne Heyman. The chorus’ lyrics read as follows:
“When God heard our cry
Decided to choose
Someone from far to come around
To turn our cries into joy.
You were chosen
You were called
You were sent to this land
The will of God.“
This song will be performed in its entirety at the Stand-Up events and is available for purchase on CD, accompanied by 11 other ASYV student performances. This year's Stand-Up & Be Counted events are dedicated to the life and legacy of Anne Heyman, through the celebration of a place she held so close to her heart.
The kids who packed their bags for their first flight could not be more excited to meet the generous people who so graciously support their future. “It is amazing to me,” says Blaise, one of the singers travelling to the United States, “that people so far away can love us so much as to encourage our successful future.” Amazing is the perfect word.
Please meet this year’s Stand-Up and Be Counted crew:
Xavier - I believe I am happiest when I am with my brothers from my Agahozo-Shalom family. I like making funny stories about food because it is no longer something I have to worry about at ASYV. The food here is very delicious. When I am not singing, my favorite place in the Village is up at Liquidnet Family High School. There is a flagpole and a seating area that overlooks the Village and I can see further than I can from anywhere else in the Village. I could sit there for hours just clearing my mind and writing songs. When I am there and I can see far I remember how blessed I am and how far I’ve come.
Fun fact: Xavier’s favorite jokes are, bar none, about food.
Coralie - My passion is music. I love when we have Village Time, which is a weekly celebration and collaboration of student performances, because I can dance freely with my friends and enjoy music with my peers. I always look forward to that time of the week. Even as a child you could always find me dancing to my favorite music. Music has the power to take you anywhere- you just have to listen.
Fun Fact: When Coralie was young she used to love watching cartoons, especially the ones with superheroes. After watching superman enough times, she convinced herself that she too could fly. Coralie secured a blanket around her neck as a cape and climbed atop her dresser and jumped. After two more unsuccessful attempts, which resulted in two scars above her left eyebrow, Coralie resigned her superhero ways. UNTIL NOW. Coralie confidently tells me that in the end, she knew it, she could fly and, in a few days, she’ll be flying all the way to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City.
Blaise - The place that I love the most in the Village is the dinging hall because that is where I eat. Eating is life. I know it maybe funny to say, but food is what makes me the most excited.
Fun Fact: Blaise would do anything for food. He is most excited to eat hamburgers in America; he says that he believes the food he is bound to experience could change his life.
Innocent - One of my favorite memories at ASYV is the first day I performed my poetry in front of my class. It was in an English class at Liqudnet Family High School. When the day came to perform, I was not nervous, something about reading my poetry to my brothers and sisters felt right to me. When I got on the stage and began to recite my poem I blew my classmates away. I practiced all different sorts of vocabulary so that I could use the appropriate English words to describe my feelings. My teacher called me a man that day and I will never forget it. She was the first one who told me I should go to New York and now I am going to Stand-Up for the second time. This moment encouraged me to keep writing poems.
Fun Fact: The best day of Innocent’s life was reciting his poem to his grandmother Anne Heyman at his graduation this past January. “She cried and gave me a hug. I remember thinking, I now know true happiness.”
Innocent (Blameless) – Sometimes I think about my first days in the Village when I could not use the word mama, but now I use that word all the time. I feel at ease in the Village and am so happy to call out to my mama in the Village whenever I see her. When I think of how young I was and how I could not call her mama, I cannot believe where I am now. Soon I am on my way to Boston and NYC and my mama is so proud of me. I would not be where I am today without her support. When I told her I was chosen to go to Stand-Up she said to me, “Son I am so proud of you.” I will never forget this moment, I just kept thinking, “We made it!!!”
Fun Fact: Innocent does not like cheese, but is convinced he will enjoy American pizza after hearing such good reviews from the Stand-Up students of year’s past.
Passy (Big Sister, and Stand Up 2014 Chaperone) - When Passy came to work at Agahozo-Shalom in 2012, she said that the ASYV mission seemed impossible. Through Anne's love and legacy, the strength of the Agahozo-Shalom community, and the transformation for the kids, she now wants to ensure that the ASYV kids have a better life than she had as a child.
Fun Fact: When I think about my family in the Village, I lose words to describe my happiness. I only had two sisters growing up, but now I have 16 young sisters that I really connect with. They are my real sisters. It is embarrassing, but sometimes I forget that I am older than them. That is my secret.
Dimitrie (Advocacy and Partnership Coordinator, and Stand Up 2014 Chaperone) - Dimitrie became an orphan at a young age, and therefore sees herself as a role model for the students at Agahozo-Shalom.
Fun Fact: When I was 15 years old I competed in Miss Core Values of my school and I was selected as the first female student who most thinks and acts like a boy. Every time I think about that moment I can't stop laughing. It always brings a smile to my face. In the village, every single kid makes me happy. I really could not survive without them. I am in love with all of them.
Jackie - I have a different story about every sister in my family. We have become so close over the years; I like to think how much we have grown. When I think about how they were in the past and how they are expressing themselves now, I become so proud of them, of us. It gives me hope that we will be the ones to develop Rwanda and to change the world.
Fun Fact: When Jackie was young she was deathly afraid of chickens. She just knew that chickens were out to get her. One afternoon she was sitting outside with her brother when they got into a sibling spat. In anger he through one of the chickens from the yard in her direction. In a fight-or-flee moment, Jackie chose flee. Unfortunately, she fled right into the rim of a large basin that contained boiling water. Jackie is no longer afraid of chickens, but she has a 3-inch long scar underneath her chin to remember what she now finds a comical incident.
Solange - at home, we are orphans my sisters and me. So we have to think of ways to make each other laugh and enjoy the company. For this, I use my voice. I have a deep base voice that makes them giggle when I dip my voice so low. They are excited to hear me sing. Now when I go home for vacation my sisters hardly let me sleep, they only want me to sing for them. It makes me happy to share my gift with them in this way.
Fun Fact: Solange’s favorite word in English is super. She heard the word when she was watching a movie and simply loved the sound. She now uses the word whenever she can.
Iddy - my favorite artist is a Rwandan abstract painter named, Binamungu. The freedom in his work is something that really inspires me as an artist. One day I hope to become a skilled abstract artist.
Fun Fact: Iddy enjoys Village Time the most of all activities offered within the village. This is because he enjoys dancing with his brothers from the Steve Jobs family. Iddy believes there is a certain freedom that comes through dance.
Submitted by Sasha Friedman, 2014 Village Fellow
See photos of the cohort below, taken during one of their rehearsals in the ASYV Lily Safra Amphitheater
20th Anniversary Commemoration of the Rwandan Genocide, McGill University
April 8, 2014
I am sincerely humbled and honored to be here for the commemoration of the Rwandan genocide.
Like many of you here tonight, I have the privilege to choose to remember. Unlike many of our friends, who have no choice but to carry those memories, I was separated from the genocide by time and place. So why are we here? Why do we choose to remember?
I imagine that everyone in this room has a different answer to that question. But for many of us, we choose to remember because the genocide has become real for us through individuals we have come to know and care about. Our friends. Our neighbors. Our colleagues. Our fellow students. Maybe you know Moses, or Ignace, or Jackie, or one of the other survivors here tonight.
Through their stories, we know that the genocide is not something confined to a specific time and place, but something that is part of our university, part of our community, part of our humanity, and part of us too. So for those who carry those memories with them every day, we stand with you today in honor, compassion, and respect. And we choose to remember.
Why else do we choose to remember?
Many times, when we speak about genocide, we use the phrase “never again.” But tragically, that phrase is starting to ring a bit hollow. If we are honest with ourselves, we know that genocide and mass atrocities occurred before and after Rwanda, and we are aware of mass atrocities continuing today, even as we speak. But while it may be a bit naïve now to say “never again,” we can still say with full sincerity, “never forget.”
It is not always easy to remember. It would be so much easier to look away. But it is only when we have the courage to look back and, as Desmond Tutu once said, “look the beast in the eye,” that we can be reminded of the importance of continuing to work to prevent, reduce, and respond to genocide and mass atrocities, even if we cannot stop them completely. And so we choose to remember.
We will be lighting candles later as part of the event, and the candles remind me of the well-known quote, “It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.” I like that quote, and yet, when I think about Rwanda, I do curse the darkness. I curse the darkness of the genocide itself. I curse the darkness of the inaction and the silence of the international community. I curse the darkness of ignorance that comes with forgetting.
So yes, I do curse the darkness. Because we can’t go back and change what happened in Rwanda. But I light a candle too, because we do have a choice when it comes to challenging the darkness of forgetting. And that’s why I, and I think many of us, are here tonight. To shine a light one on of the darkest moments of recent history, so that we can then start to look forward.
And so tonight, we choose to remember. We remember those who lost their lives, we remember those who risked their lives to save others, and we honor the survivors who have the courage to go on living and to share their stories.
For everyone here tonight, and especially for the survivors: Kwibuku. We remember.
Comments by Julie M. Norman, McGill University Political Science Professor
A Talk of Tomorrow, a speech by ASYV Alumni and current McGill student Ignace
We, young people, people of my generation, people who were really young to live in hopeless country, a country full of cruelty, uncertainty, suspicion, desperation, conflicts and a broken nation.
A country with enormous and unhappy orphans, widows.
A country with no functioning unity, all offices were closed, no judiciary system existed, yet we have millions of genocide perpetrators who needed to be sentenced (if over million of people were killed in only 100 days, you can imagine how many people got involved in killings - millions)
I was [too] young to know anything or to remember scenarios of genocide, but being raised in a society that was affected by it, I could smell its stench. I lived its consequences. Each and every family was affected in one way or the other - traumatized people all around in the streets - orphans becoming chiefs of household under 18 years old, with a responsibility to raise two or three other children who were under ten - no resources because everything was destroyed - no friends because everybody was unreliable - sorrow of the lost family. How could it be possible to rebuild ourselves again? How could it be possible to restructure the society? These are the questions I asked myself when growing.
My sister told me,right after the genocide when she went back to school, that in her class there was so much blood on the classroom walls - they hadn't cleaned it. The next day, the walls were washed cleaned, but the teacher himself brought a machete to the class and killed 8 Tutsi young students right in front of the classroom filled with students. "Live!!,“ my sister told me.
We remember to respect, to honor, celebrate the death of innocent people, we remember to support the survivors, we remember to value the humanity, our identity. If we don’t remember. we lose focus,
We do this every April, to prevent any other genocide and massive killings. We do this to better the world's future. If people’s choices are not informed by historical clarity, the danger is always present. Let’s learn from history.
We Are the Seeds of Hope, a speech by ASYV Alumni and current McGill student Jackie
Since six years ago, I lived in the Agahozo-Sholom Youth Village (ASYV), located in the Eastern province of Rwanda, a place where all tears are dried, a place where one learns “Tikkun Halev,” self-healing and “Tikkun Olam,” healing the world. When I got to this place, I was received by many people who helped me to know what it means to have a dream, and become successful in life. The Village has a motto saying, "IF YOU SEE FAR, YOU WILL GO FAR." Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village is not only a home for Rwandan youth like me, but also a place of hope, renewal and resilience. At Agahozo-Shalom, there is a community - I have sisters and brothers who always remind me to, “never give up my friend, the sun is gonna shine again," and "we are gonna change the world.”
Before the establishment of Agahozo-Shalom, there was no hope for many of us who came to live in the Village. It was difficult to live a life without knowing who you are, where you are from, or wondering what your parents could look like. For that reason, there was no hope for the future, no awareness of what can make us happy, and no confidence of what we are capable of. We were driven by fear, sorrows and incompetence in everything. In other words, we were meandering like a lost leaf in the wind. BUT, that was then. Today, we see ourselves as the responses to the problems that our country is facing because we are the seeds of hope and renewal. You may probably wonder what motivates us that much!
Our motivation is that we have grown enough to understand that our sufferings were brought by poor leadership, but we truly believe in a change for a bright future. We believe that each night has an end, and is always followed by sunshine that brings the light. WE, the Rwandan youth, we are the new sunshine, we want to spread this light to the world. Day after day, we learn how to overcome our fears by fighting against any kind of misleading actions that may bring us back where we are from. United as ONE, We have a common goal which is a bright future, and making the world a better place.
When I was at Agahozo-Shalom, every day, they would tell us that, “WE ARE SEEDS OF HOPE”. This has been a leading motto for many of us, and a reason to work hard, because we see the sky as the only limit we have. As we commemorate [the genocide], we gain more confidence that there is a reason to why we are alive, and we take a responsibility to accomplish all unaccomplished tasks of our beloved brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers, neighbors and friends. We believe that they had dreams. Some wanted to become doctors, pilots, engineers, teachers, and CEOs. That’s why we work twice as hard in order to realize our dreams, and theirs as well.
Most importantly, our goal is to make this world a better place. When Anne Heyman had the idea to build a Village for Rwandan Youth, her plan was not giving food, or shelter. Her plan was “Tikkun Olam” - to teach us that we are the hope for our country and that we can be the change that the world needs. That’s our responsibility today, which is yours too. Together united we stand, let’s say NEVER AGAIN to Genocide against humanity. Let's mean it, and do it. We are the youth, future leaders of this world, it’s our responsibility to learn from past experiences, and avoid the same mistakes. Yes, they say, history repeats itself, but let us join together, united, and make Genocide against humanity an exception in future leadership.
Today I would like to take this opportunity to honor, Anne Heyman, the founder of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, who unfortunately passed away last few months ago [January 31, 2014]. Her goal was to see us succeeding in life, and her dream has been always been to heal the world. For sure, we will make it.
Again, I can’t finish without taking this opportunity to thank all of you who came to be with us, and hear our experiences. When we came here In August , we were afraid that there would be no one to encourage us and help us to keep seeing the sky as the only limit. But, we found other caring brothers, sisters and mentors here at McGill. Both the ASYV and McGill communities will always be our places where we belong.
In Rwanda, there is a community service day from 8:00am to 11:00am, on the last Saturday of each month called Umuganda, meaning community service. Umuganda is designed so that the citizens themselves can contribute and build the country..
Participation in Umuganda is usually supervised by a manager, or Umudugudu chairperson who oversees the effectiveness and efficiency of community participation.On this day, business activity halts, public transportation is limited, and people are seen everywhere working. People participate in cleaning streets, cutting grass and trimming bushes along roads, or repairing public facilities or building houses for vulnerable persons. Umuganda has contributed to the growth and development of Rwanda.
The notion of Umuganda is very much in line with one of the core pillars at Agahozo-Shalom: Tikkun Olam, a Hebrew phrase that means "repairing the world" (or "healing the world") which suggests humanity's shared responsibility to heal, repair and transform their community. ASYV Founder Anne Heyman believed deeply in the notion that we can all heal by helping others. Below is a blog post about our very own ASYV students giving back to the community throughout the year, not just on the last Saturday of each month.
It is always amazing when our kids in the Village approach the Management team with incredible ideas of ways to help people in need. Recently, the ASYV Tikkun Olam Club volunteered their time at the local Rwamagana Hospital, and took part in the International Day of the Sick.
In the words of, Xavier Nurukundo, a Senior 6 student (Grade 12), and project promoter within the Tikkun Olam Club, “We are thankful that we are granted free health insurance and care at Agahozo-Shalom, but it is important to help other people, especially poor children, whose parents can not afford insurance, or pay for their treatment fees”.
That statement is representative of the thought process that prompted Nurukundo and his friends to organize a fundraising event to aid the neighboring Hospital and support those it treats on a daily basis. To support the initiative, Nurukundo asked fellow students, teachers, family mothers, clinic staff, and Village management to contribute money for the cause. The collected funds were used to purchasefood items, sanitation and hygiene materials, as well as contribute money towards the annual subscription of health insurance put aside for sick children who would otherwise not have access to treatment. In addition, the Tikkun Olam Club prepared an educational play, songs and dances to entertain the hospital patients, which brought them joy and happiness, and greatly increased their morale.
We were happy to see how our donation was received with respect and consideration by the hospital administration and patients. It never fails, the ASYV kids make us so proud!
Submitted by Dimitrie Sissi Mukanyiligira, ASYV Advocacy and Partnership Coordinator
The activity of Debate came to ASYV in 2012 and has picked up rapid momentum since its introduction. An NGO local to Rwanda known as iDebate brought a group of trained national debaters to the Village in the aim of teaching students the principles of debate. In just over one year, ASYV students have taken the initiative to form their own ASYV debate team and turn themselves into fierce competitors on the national level. The team is composed of roughly 30 students from Senior 4, 5, and 6 (10th, 11th, and 12th grades.) They compete in competitions across the country and have already acclaimed noted success.
In their first competition in May of 2013, ASYV won the first three rounds of the debate, but lost before advancing to the quarterfinals. The experience inspired the team to push for greater success. Over the summer break of 2013, nine ASYV students attended a debate camp for seven days in Gashora, Kigali. During the debate seminar, the students worked tirelessly to achieve and practice more advanced debating skills such as public speaking and argument improvisation. The debate club, which was founded in the same year as the debate team, prepares topics and oversees weekly debates that take place within the family homes. These weekly debates serve as ideal mock trials for debate team participants.
When the debate team returned to Kigali for competition, they were no longer the novice debaters they once were. Their hard work was evident and the team advanced to the quarterfinals. This past March, the debate team entered a competition in Kimihurura, Kigali and won all three qualifying rounds. They were champions of the quarterfinals and only lost in the semi-finals by 4 points. The Agahozo-Shalom Debate Team is currently ranked second in the nation.
Frank B’Ntambara a senior five student and active member of the debate team since its inception spoke to me on the importance of promoting the principles of debate.
I asked him, why do you think debate is important for ASYV and for Rwanda on a larger scale?
He told me:
“As students, debate helps us to think critically. When we are in debate, someone is challenging you, both in your opinions and your thoughts. In that moment you must think quickly and have a deep analysis of your argument so you can give the better answer. Many people in Rwanda do not have the tools to break down an argument in this way. If they had access to debate they could more effectively weigh their options and make more informed decisions. Their interactions with one another would be strengthened and they could communicate their ideas more clearly. For these reasons, debate is very important.
To be able to debate is the tool I use the most in my daily life. That and football of course. I am studying at Liquidnet Family High School. Both in my studies at school and my practice of debate are performed in English. As a result, I have become very good in this language. When I leave for vacation my former school in District 17 calls me because they know I speak English well. They ask me to help out in the school and tutor some of the children. I go and help for free, but they give me a bonus for good teaching. I encourage the students to think critically because I know what an important skill that is.
I even use my power of debate in football. I analyze the other players and am able to communicate more clearly with my teammates. I use my power of speech for economical purposes as well. I am a good football player, but I also present myself well. I play football for my district team and every match is 5,000 Rwandan Francs.
There is a lot of team spirit that goes into debate. We challenge each other so much. When we are in competition we are challenged to support one another’s arguments. If we do this well then we succeed. That is why it is important to practice within our family homes. We feel familiar with one another and can express ourselves without fear. However, when you are competing with someone familiar you do not play as hard as you can. In competition we are fierce and we use our toughest tricks.
The debate topics are chosen by the iDebate organization. We do not know the topics before the competition and that is what is most exciting for me. It is interesting to debate for a position that I did not think of before. Even if I do not agree with the position I am taking, I find a way to make it my own. When I debate I am a decision maker. Only the top 27 schools in Rwanda have a debate team, but I think this number should be increased. Debate is an important skill that all of Rwanda should experience. I am so thankful to have the opportunity to debate for ASYV. I am confident that this year we can be first in the country.”
As the first term of the 2014 school year at Agahozo-Shalom draws to a close (term break begins 5 April), so too does the sports programming.
At the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, our kids are welcome to choose from basketball, football (soccer), volleyball, karate, as well as a new option of track and field. Prior to arriving at Agahozo-Shalom, most of the students have never had access to athletic facilities or proper training. Undeterred, they pour onto the fields and courts enthusiastically awaiting instruction during the after school enrichment program offering. You'll also find students organizing their own pick-up games when structured activities are not planned. Despite their lack of prior experience with athletics, the students are in no way discouraged, and have a strong desire to learn and play. Coaches (informal educators) introduce the necessary concepts of stretching, warm-ups, and teamwork, and throughout the term, more detailed rules and regulations are explained to the students. The importance of hard work and perseverance is reiterated throughout each team’s practice.
If you had the opportunity to attend an ASYV basketball game played by the older students, it would be easy to forget how far they have come in such a short time. They move about the court with grace, and each player possess an immense amount of skill. It seems impossible that just a year or two ago, they stood wide-eyed and confused, having never picked up a basketball.
It's not just the basketball team that shines though, in fact ASYV’s Men’s Volleyball Club, headed by coach Alexandre Umurinzi, took home the title at the Rwamagana District Volleyball Championship Series in 2013. “You may as well say 2014,” boasts Alexandre in complete confidence of his team, looking ahead to this year's competition.
In just a matter of weeks, the progress made by first-year students is palpable, and is only reiterated in the face of competition. Students are eager to prove themselves within their sports assignments and yet there is an element of teamwork and camaraderie that embraces the concept of ASYV’s family initiative. While the sports program officially ends at six in the evening, most of the students and coaches remain on the field. “Practice and you will succeed” - these are words not lost on the young athletes and they are out to prove it.
A study conducted in 2012 by the Central Intelligence Agency found that there are an estimated 207,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Rwanda.* While the Rwandan government takes great strides to curb the prevalence of this disease, without access to education and testing, the eradication of HIV/AIDS in Rwanda is nearly impossible. While these statistics remain daunting, Agahozo-Shalom confronts the challenge head-on through the continued education of our students on the causes, susceptibility, and preventative measures necessary to contain HIV/AIDS. Monday, March 10th marked the end of ASYV’s annual HIV/AIDS Awareness Event that, organized each year by Agahozo-Shalom’s Health and Wellness Center.
Hassina Umutesi, the Coordinator of Health and Wellness at Agahozo-Shalom, organized this event this year. She explained that the topic of HIV/AIDS must be approached very sensitively. “Some of these kids have experienced AIDS in the death of their parents or siblings. Many kids were born from parents who were HIV positive and thus fear they will also be positive. Until this point, they do not know and there is a lot of fear surrounding testing. They are not aware because in their Village they do not have access to treatment or testing and no guardian is concerned about this. It is our initiative to make sure each child is safe and informed.” ASYV’s two full-time nurses and a part-time doctor assisted with the week's events. Aside from the annual event, there are also two full-time psychosocial workers who live in the Village and work with students to promote mental stability through individual counseling.
There werethree stages that served as the foundation for this year's HIV/AIDS event. The first was an awareness campaign where students learn about what HIV/AIDS is and how it is transmitted. Health and Wellness Center Staff traveled to each family home in the Village (32 in all!) to give a detailed explanation of HIV/AIDS and to answer any questions the students may have. The information sessions were followed by a Village-wide performance held at the amphitheater that welcomed students, staff, and health professionals to speak on the importance of HIV testing, prevention, and treatment.
Pre-counseling was followed by a blood test. Each student at ASYV is tested once per year. During this time, students are encouraged to donate blood, which is distributed to partnered health centers in the surrounding area.
The third stage of the Event was certainly the most challenging, as it provides post-counseling for those who have tested positive. For these students, it is of crucial importance to treat their minds as well as their bodies. HIV is not an excuse to give up and ASYV does its best to ensure that our students are not swallowed by their diagnosis. Health Center Staff teach students how to receive their medication from facilities outside of the Village, as it is important for students to understand how to obtain medication after they graduate or when they leave the Village for term breaks.
The medical support of the Health Center does not cease after the results are announced. Therapeutic support is offered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without exception. Health Center staff work to generate specific treatment plans according to the needs and wishes of the individual. The Village completely respects the privacy of each student. They are not required to inform anyone of their diagnosis. However, students are strongly encouraged to continue counseling and to inform their Mama in the Village. In a continued display of mutual trust, the Health Center has devised a strategy that further emphasizes the anonymity of those infected. Hassina explains, “When we invite students to be tested the following year, those who have tested positive come as well. We have a secret sign between those who are tested positive and the Health Center Staff so that we know who is HIV positive. We want to protect the student from unnecessary stigmatization. This is a small community. We do not tell the students how many kids at the Village are HIV positive - there is no reason they need to know. We have both positive and negative persons living within our community, just like Rwanda.”
Through this event, ASYV continues its promise to educate our students beyond the walls of their classrooms and the gates of ASYV. We are incredibility grateful for the strength and persistence of the Health and Wellness Center Staff and their enduring care of the bodies and minds of our students!
There are two Hebrew philosophies on which the foundation of Agahozo-Shalom firmly rests. The first is Tikkun Halev, “repairing the heart” and the second, Tikkun Olam, “repairing the world.” Through the adoption of these principles ASYV students work to mend the wounds they have suffered in their past and also give back to those who are less fortunate. The Tikkun Olam Club is one of the many extracurricular activities offered at ASYV. Those who take part in the Tikkun Olam Club work to fundraise for community service projects that are carried out by Senior 4, 5, and 6 year students (2nd, 3rd, and 4th year students). Samantha Reynolds is the 2014 Advocacy and Partnership Assistant Fellow at Agahozo-Shalom and is also an organizer of the Tikkun Olam Club. Below is an article she wrote in response to an experience she had while supervising a Tikkun Olam inspired service project. Read and Enjoy!
February 25th marked the first day of Tikkun Olam for Senior 4 (second year) students at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. Tikkun Olam is a core component of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. Anne Heyman, ASYV Founder, established Agahozo-Shalom out of a sense of obligation to Tikkun Olam, a Hebrew phrase that means our shared responsibility to heal, repair and transform the world. Volunteering and sharing knowledge with others allows students to heal by performing acts of kindness for others in the surrounding community, and by feeling that they have a part in creating a just world. ASYV students undertake different projects that vary per grade and are assigned to all, except new students who are still focusing on Tikkun Halev, Hebrew for “repairing the heart.”
Senior 4 students volunteer by providing administrative support at a local health clinic, leading English-enrichment activities at a local primary school, and building houses for vulnerable families in the community that surrounds the ASYV. The majority of the students participate in building homes, which has become a key project for ASYV students. To date, ASYV students have built 12 homes in the neighboring villages.
Every year, the Tikkun Olam committee, comprised of ASYV staff, meet with local government officials to learn about the most vulnerable families in the surrounding area and assess their needs. The committee evaluates each family and chooses two of the most vulnerable families to assist for the year.
Claudine and her four children were chosen as one of the families ASYV would assist in 2014. Claudine lives only a ten-minute walk from the gates of Agahozo-Shalom. Born in 1980, she is a single mother to four children. Only two children currently live with her. The eldest child left to find work and the other child went to live with a neighbor. She has a small plot of land given to her by her brothers and a small house constructed of mud and a tin roof. The current roof is riddled with holes, leaving little shelter for the upcoming heavy rainy season. Claudine and her children survive without running water, electricity, toilet facilities, furnishings, and often, food. The family eats the crops grown from their small garden in their backyard and sleep on the cold, hard ground with a threadbare sheet. Life is hard for Claudine who has few family members to help support her, and no income of her own to support her children.
When the ASYV students and staff arrived at her home, they were met with open arms. Claudine was overjoyed to receive support from ASYV. Her children ran out of the house to greet the students. Samuel, two and a half years old, laughed as ASYV students played with him and “Obama,” named after U.S. President Barack Obama, age five, curiously watched the group survey the land.
ASYV students and staff assessed the plot of land to determine the site of the future house. With the assistance of ASYV staff, the students will construct a larger home with two bedrooms and a family room. The students wasted no time in getting to work. They made bricks by mixing mud, grass, and water and placing the mixture into a mold, forming bricks. In just two hours, ASYV students created 37 bricks, a small accomplishment for their first day in house building. The students finished their first day by reciting a prayer and headed back to the Village, caked in mud.
Tikkun Olam didn’t end when the students departed the site of Claudine’s home. The ASYV students were deeply moved by Claudine and her family. They noticed her lack of basic necessities, such as food and clothing, and they wanted to give her more than just a house. In the next few weeks, the students will meet to discuss ways in which they can provide more assistance to Claudine and her children. Their goal is to not only provide a house for the family, but to encourage Claudine to hope for a positive future for herself and her family.
When asked about the importance of tikkun olam, Senior 4 student, Quinzaine replied, “It is good because I am in the process of repairing my world and I like to help those to repair theirs.” Many students at ASYV come from the same difficult circumstances as Claudine.
Even in Rwanda, it is easy to forget what happens in life outside of the "ASYV bubble." The Village is a beautiful utopian space amidst an area rife with destitution. The landscape is kept, the houses are colorful and orderly, and it is a peaceful environment that preaches hope and acceptance.
From an outside perspective, it is extraordinary to watch so many young Rwandans, who have experienced similar hardships as Claudine, helping those who desperately need it in their community. The students of Agahozo-Shalom possess a remarkable desire and willingness to give back. Their passion is contagious and I truly believe that they are repairing the world, one house at a time.
Submitted by Samantha Reynolds, 2014 Village Fellow
Yes! -- ASYV Graduates Rank Among the Top in Rwanda on their National Exams
ASYV congratulates the Imbuto Grade graduates for their terrific performance on the Senior 6 National Exam. For the graduates who wish to continue on to higher education, they must pass a National Exam given by the Rwandan Board of Education. This year’s exam was especially difficult. According to the New Times, a Rwandan daily newspaper, “fewer than 3% of grades are A’s, and 30% of students failed [the] exam.”** It is with great pride we announce that four ASYV graduates scored among the top ten in the country on the English examination. Of these four, two students received absolute perfect scores.
Innocent Nzayisenga, one of the four top performers, said of his reaction to the exam results, “I thought they confused my marks. I was very surprised!” An orphan of both parents, Innocent came to ASYV without hope of finishing high school, let alone attending university on a government scholarship. The family structure of ASYV is a helpful tool in motivating students to take on the challenge of turning around one’s life; a struggle that Innocent knows first hand. Upon arriving at ASYV, Innocent had never used the word Mama. It was a month before he felt comfortable calling out to his Mama in the Village. Four years later, Innocent, now a talented musician and singer-songwriter, tells me “I have many Mamas in the Village. I feel at home and am no longer alone. I know I have a family. With their support I study hard and that is how I became the student I am now.”
It is in pursuit of this transformation that ASYV focuses intently on the Hebrew principle of Tikkun Halev, “repairing the heart.” A student cannot perform at their best if they are studying on an empty stomach or worrying about where they will find next month’s school fees. The traumas that many ASYV students endure in their past are not wounds that are easily mended. It takes time for students to ease into the rhythm of school, to hone their English skills, and feel comfortable among their Village families. Moses Illunga, ASYV’s Career Development Coordinator, stresses the importance of the Enrichment Year or “catch-up” year that is offered at ASYV. He tells me, “Enrichment Year helps these kids to know who they are and to heal themselves. You cannot expect them to pass their exams or to focus on their studies when they have scars and wounds inside.”
Due to this year’s high marks, ASYV is eligible to receive 35 state funded scholarships and over 50 Survivor’s Fund Scholarships, which are set aside for orphans of the Genocide Against the Tutsi. The Village expects that at least ten of this year’s graduating class will receive full scholarships to study outside of the country. In a display of ASYV’s push to advocate on behalf of women’s education, 16 of ASYV’s top 30 performers are female, showing a marked improvement from the national average. The Imbuto Grade had higher scores in math and science than in past years, with two graduates receiving straight A’s in these subjects. Moses believes this trajectory will continue upward as ASYV graduates more students. “We will adjust our teaching methods and apply these changes for the younger grades. As we continue to do this we can only expect to see greater and greater results from both our students and educators,” he tells me.
For Innocent, his National Exam score will open many more opportunities for him. Wherever he goes he will always have a home at ASYV and we look forward to hearing of his next adventures. “For me, I don’t have anything valuable to leave with ASYV to show my gratitude. If there were some treasure that I had, I would give it to the Village to show them how thankful I am for everything they have done for me. They have taken someone from zero, I would even say someone from a negative number, and made him into someone who has potential.”
A short message from our Village Director, Jean Claude Nkulikiyimfura on his response to the National Exam Results:
“We are very happy with these results and proud of our students. It is important to remember that these kids come from the most vulnerable backgrounds in the country. Their progress is simply amazing.”
Reflecting its dedication to helping heal the world, The Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village fostered the development of a solar field located on Village property that will generate enough electricity to contribute to a roughly 10 percent increase in the country's electricity supply. Through ASYV's leadership, various entrepreneurs, investors, government and technical professionals collaborated to build what will be East Africa's largest photovoltaic installation, located in a Village whose mission is to care for Rwanda's most vulnerable children. ASYV is leasing land to house the solar facility, the fees from which will help pay for a portion of the Village's charitable expenses.
"Anne Heyman, our Founder of blessed memory, held to a vision in which the Village practiced Tikkun Olam, the Jewish teaching to help heal the world. In addition to our work with Rwandan's most vulnerable children, we're now helping to improve the lives of thousands of people through sustainable electricity generation," said Laurie Toll Franz, ASYV's newly elected Board Chair.