August 28, 2014
My name is Jean-Claude Parisien and I am the Program Coordinator at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. I started working at the Village the first year that it opened in December of 2008. As the Program Coordinator, my main responsibilities include planning, supervising, and evaluating all the programs that are created for the Enrichment Year (first year) students. I am the point-person for all special events that take place in the Village, and I am also the coach for both the girls' and boys’ soccer teams.
Before I came to ASYV, I was working at a high school in Musanza in Northern Rwanda. I heard from a friend that a Village was opening in Rwamagana that was going to take in vulnerable and orphaned youth in pursuit of restoring the rhythm of their lives. Hearing about this opportunity, I began researching employment opportunities because I recognized the importance of a Village of this sort in Rwanda.
When I first came to Agahozo-Shalom, I saw how the community and model had a lot of potential. Many of the houses were still under construction and there was a lot to do before we could get all of the programs we had planned underway, but everyone could feel the promise of a thriving environment. Everything about ASYV was new, not just to me, but to Rwanda at large. The idea of educating without punishment was something I had never heard of before. Agahozo-Shalom abides by a set of core values instead of rules and uses “DNA”- Discussion, Negotiation, and Agreement - when students misbehave. DNA is how we show our students respect. If our kids are in constant fear of punishment, it can create resistance between the students and educators. We are living as a family and allowing our students to work through the choices that they make is part of that process.
This Village is especially important for a country like Rwanda because we have such a high number of vulnerable youth here. ASYV gives hope that there is a solution. It gives these children confidence that they can lead good lives and be productive members of society.
As someone who started with the Village in 2008, I feel honored to have witnessed the transformation of each grade from their first year through their graduation, four years later. I have seen kids first come to the Village who were angry, who spoke no English, and refused to say one word to their Mamas. Over four years, I saw them transform into competent students, crying as they hugged their Mamas before they walked across the stage to receive their diplomas. This shows me that healing really is possible. ASYV is making a difference. Once you see the kids transforming, you know that you have done something right. When you see a student who struggled with their self-confidence, stand up on the debate stage, or a student who only wanted to be alone, passing the soccer ball with his brothers, these are the greatest rewards you can receive as an educator.
As I am an informal educator and programmer, I believe that extracurricular activities are absolutely essential in giving students the tools they need to be successful in their future initiatives. In our most recent graduating class, we have one student who opened a photo studio in the Southern Province of Rwanda, skills he learned in the ASYV photo-editing club. We have two kids who opened up their own art gallery in Kigali, who are able to run this business using the information they honed in an ASYV professional skills workshop. We continue to give these students advice in their business dealings, but they are completely financially independent from the Village. More of our students have continued on to University or other employment opportunities and we are always excited to hear how they are progressing.
ASYV is changing the lives of these kids, plain and simple. We know that they are the ones who will go out and change the world. They have good hearts and they want to give back to their communities. For anyone who wants to work or volunteer here, I want to extend a welcoming hand. ASYV will show you another way to live, another way to learn. I have learned so much in my teaching at ASYV. As an example, I discipline my own children using the DNA method and am happy for the relationship this has fostered between us. I want to thank founder Anne Heyman for all that she did to create this home for those in Rwanda who are living without. I also want to thank ASYV’s amazing team who works together to allow ASYV to continue to exist. I hope to remain an educator here for many years to come!
Submitted by Sasha Friedman, 2014 Village Fellow