Agahozo-Shalom: Building a sense of home and a brighter future for Rwanda’s orphans

July 10, 2012

 Founded by Anne Heyman, a South-African born New Yorker who recognised the similarities between the high influxes of orphans in Rwanda and the challenges that faced the Jews after the Holocaust, the Village was built to model the Yemin Orde Youth Village in northern Israel. Today, Agahozo-Shalom helps orphans from each of the 30 districts in Rwanda build a sense of home and prepare for a brighter future with a secondary school education and therapeutic and creative outlets for moving forward.

Come December, the Village will celebrate the graduation of its first class of students and in a place where the phrase, “If you see far you will go far,” is continuously repeated. An approximate 70 per cent or more hope to matriculate to institutions of higher education.

“Students would come in and say, ‘I want to be a doctor’ but they would have no understanding of what it would take to get there, or that there are other career options in life. In the Village they can try out art and music and ‘hands on’ science and maybe they’ll discover that they have a talent they never knew about,” Heyman said in an interview with The New Times last week.

“We like the students to experiment in their time here with the traditional and the modern,” Heyman added as we walked along the nature trail at the peak of the mountain that the Village sits on. Just because something is new and different doesn’t necessarily make it better, she emphasized.

For example, there are two types of beehives, traditional and modern, that the students work to upkeep. As part of their overall experience at the Village, students are required to engage in farming and the upkeep of the Village, which is done through clubs (technical club, leadership club environment club, etc.)

In Senior 5 and Senior 6 the children are exposed to job skill training and each elects a “professional skill” after-school activity in the areas of hospitality, ICT or modern agriculture. Entrepreneurship is also an area of focus.

When asked how the students are preparing to leave the Village, Heyman said that one student proposed starting a listserv through which the class could stay in touch. Whether the students have access to computers or not following their graduation, this is the kind of forward thinking Agahozo Shalom has prepared them for.