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