Witness to Amazing Transformations: My Year As A Village Fellow

November 6, 2014

Leigh Woods - Agahozo-Shalom 2014 Village Fellow, Programs Coordinator Assistant and Sports Development

• Agahozo-Shalom Family: Nelson Mandela

• Enrichment Programs: Boys Football (Soccer), Track & Field

• Club: Environment

• Additional Roles: Coach to the boys and girls football teams

The year that I spent living and working at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village has been an incredibly insightful and gratifying experience. Before arriving at the ASYV, I remember feeling slightly apprehensive about my impending assignment. It wasn't my professional responsibilities that I felt nervous about, but the daunting task of serving as a "cousin" to 16 teenage boys.

It quickly became apparent that my initial anxieties were entirely unwarranted. Despite my busy and at times exhausting schedule, my favourite part of each day is undoubtedly the one-hour I spend with my boys during Family Time. Whether playing educational games, debating or discussing current world affairs, there is never a dull moment.

The healing combination of formal and informal education within a stable, family orientated environment has contributed immensely toward the development of each and every child here in the Village. In addition, I have witnessed an astronomical rise in many individuals' confidence during my year here. Kids who felt too self-conscious to speak a single word during family time, have become frequent performers at Village Time and have brought crowds of over 500 people to their feet in applause. 

Amazing transformations are occurring within all areas of the Village. In formal education, the students' grasp of the English language is rapidly improving there is no greater testimony of their skills than during our weekly family debates. In informal education, I have seen kids who had never held a paintbrush before, go on to create their own masterpieces. One boy from my family couldn't play a single chord on the guitar before arriving in the Village. Ten lessons later, all I can say is watch your back Van Halen.

Needless to say, as my time in the Village draws to a heartbreaking close, I have begun to reflect on my experience here. In doing so, I have considered which aspects I will miss the most. After ruminating over the many great characteristics of the Village, I believe that the thing I will miss more than anything is being in the company of such cheerful and optimistic people. For kids and staff alike, the level of enthusiasm for learning is striking, and every opportunity for personal growth is embraced with open arms. To leave an environment that exudes such profound positive energy is going to be tough.

The thought of leaving the Village leads to the question of what comes next. Though I have little idea of what my immediate future has in store, the year I have spent in Rwanda has given me some direction. Prior to my tenure at ASYV, I had never really considered the prospect of teaching. After spending a year coaching the Village football teams, along with sharing my knowledge and passion to the kids in my environment club, I feel that I have unearthed a hidden talent within myself. Through teaching these subjects, I have found educating youth to be incredibly fulfilling.

As I conclude this piece, I think about those who will succeed us. My advice to future fellows is to bring to the Village a sense of good will and an open mind. They must also be accepting of living in a very unfamiliar environment, and one that encompasses many cultural differences. The earlier the fellows adapt to Rwandan life and embrace these cultural variations, the better. The greatest advice I can give to next year’s fellows is to frequently ask themselves the question, “ Who am I here for?” Understand that every decision should be made in the best interests of the children. Put all of your effort into every little thing you do in the Village and the entire experience will be far more rewarding. Be sure not to end your tenure here with any regrets, or with the feeling that you could have used your time more productively. Get involved with as many activities as possible but do not exhaust yourselves. Above all, immerse yourselves in the philosophy of the Village and embrace all that reside here with an open heart. 

Submitted by Leigh Woods, 2014 Village Fellow