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