“It is important for each kid to have the love of a Mama. These kids are orphans, they need the care of a mother, to feel her warmth and have her support.” These words are asserted with conviction by five-year veteran Mama Marie-Claire Mukamitali. ASYV students are orphans of one parent or both; it is the mission of the Village to provide them with a supportive family structure. The Mamas of ASYV are a necessary component of creating a home within the Village. They take on the exhausting, yet rewarding, role of mother to sixteen vulnerable children from all corners of Rwanda. Students remain with their Mamas as well as their fifteen brothers/sisters from the day they arrive at the Village through their graduation. As the years progress, families become closer and the bonds grow tighter. For the Mamas, witnessing and taking part in the transformation from orphan to educated high school graduate is a tremendous experience. Mamas are the beating hearts of Agahozo-Shalom and the Village could not function in its familial capacity without their round-the-clock care.
There is a special closeness between Mamas in the Village. They experience similar challenges, and as a result have formed an internal support network among themselves. Mama Betty Mbabazi is new to ASYV as of January 2014. When asked about the initial challenges she encountered as a first-time ASYV Family Mother, she said, “As a new Mama, it is difficult because I still have a lot of learn. I receive much advice from the other Mamas and am so grateful to them.”
The responsibilities of a Mama are diverse and subject to change depending on the specific needs of each individual child. “As Mama, I like to act as a real mother would outside of the Village. I wish to care and to love my children. I teach them how to take care of themselves, “ says Marie-Claire of her responsibilities in the Village. The duties of Mama are not contained within the gates of ASYV. “I visit each kid at their home [during term breaks] because it is necessary to know how they live and to be familiar with his/her family or guardians. We must know their backgrounds so we can help them in their future,” Mama Marie-Claire told me. Individualized attention is something that many of the children of ASYV are not accustomed to receiving. Within the Village they have many people looking out for their futures, but the Mama provides a special sort of comfort. Mama Betty explains, “The children need total love. I must teach my children that all people are equal and that all my children are loved equally.”
We are grateful to have such strong Mamas at Agahozo-Shalom, many of whom lost members of their own families in the Genocide. In the words of Mama Marie-Claire, “I was also an orphan as a teenager. I want to advise them and give them my experience. ASYV is my home; I love this place. I will give these kids everything I have.”
Submitted by Sasha Friedman, 2014 Village Fellow