Night has fallen on the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. The air begins to take on a crisp coolness as the evening breeze overtakes the final warmth of the day’s sunlight. Thousands of stars shine brightly against the dark night sky and students begin to slowly meander their way home from their full day of activities. It is in these evening hours that families gather together and dedicate the final waking hour of the day to engaging with one another. The whole family - mama, big brother or sister, cousin (long-term volunteer) and all of the kids gather in the common area of their home, sit together and speak. This is Family Time.
It is in this hour that conversations are led, ideas are shared, thoughts are voiced, disagreements are aired, topics addressed, English is practiced and a deep kind of sharing happens. Mamas lead discussions around leadership, hygiene, time management and responsible behaviors, ensuring that all their children are getting the personal support that they need to succeed. Life lessons are taught and values are instilled. Big brothers and sisters discuss best practices and inquire as to how everyone in the family is doing, feeling, managing, trying to ensure that everyone is feeling well and confident, and guiding those who express a desire for additional support. Cousins bring their unique perspectives and provide support wherever they can. Students often chime in with observations, questions about things they have seen or read, and provide feedback about what they need to be discussing during this time that is set aside for them.
Often students will guide the conversations that happen throughout the Village during Family Time, sending out discussion prompts to all the Mamas days ahead of time, encouraging everyone to engage in conversation or debate around a particular series of topics. This week for example, we have been discussing leadership and the traits of leaders, thanks to the members of the student Leadership Club who felt this topic was relevant and important.
Discussions that begin in Family Time often continue and carry over to conversations that take place in the dining hall, on the Village paths while walking to and from school, and between families. A senior four (10th grade) student recently explained that he likes Family Time because, “We share different ideas… like at school we meet with so many different circumstances and we gather in the Family Time to discuss them. If we’ve met with a challenge, we talk about it with our mom and our brothers so we can solve it.” Another senior four student reflected on his first year in the Village and how their family had a cousin who joined them from America. He said, “That was when the Family Time helped us do our homework. We got knowledge from our cousin who taught us many things.” At Agahozo-Shalom, Family Time is a routine, taken seriously and it serves as a designated space which is set-aside for all family members to talk, engage with one another and address anything and everything that they need to. It is a cornerstone of the Village experience and everyone who spends time at ASYV has the opportunity to participate.
“In many ways …” another senior four student chimes in, “… it helps us to associate. In the family we meet with each other and guests. We all have different cultures, different beliefs, we share ideas and behaviors … We try to help each other to behave the right way.” Family Time is a unique feature of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village model that contributes to making ASYV the unique family-oriented community that it is.
Submitted by long-term volunteer Shira Liff-Grieff