June 17, 2016
During the days leading up to our Stand Up and Be Counted gala 2016, we spent time with ASYV alumni who are studying at various universities across the US and Canada. Among the events was a meetup to discuss our graduates' experiences post ASYV and the impact that their time spent in the Village has had on their lives today. Below are highlights taken from the Liquidnet Lunch & Learn. Click here to listen to the audio from the event.
Student Speaker, Pacifique Rutamu (00:00-2:19)
"When I got there (ASYV) and saw all of the opportunities, I was so determined to turn my life around and use it to shape my future and support my family and my country at large. So I was pretty serious about the opportunities. I was an MC, dancer, painter, you name it. It was kind of like I was exploring myself and my interest in everything. I improved academically and was later admitted into a pre-gap year program after ASYV. It’s called Bridge2Rwanda, a program that helps high school graduates to get into schools based in the US, Canada, and Europe. I was able to get a scholarship, a full ride at TCU in Fort Worth. My transition was not very hard mostly because of the time that I spent in ASYV, which is a very different place from other high schools that you can go to in Rwanda. I was introduced to a busy life that encompassed many challenges. I am very thankful for what the village has done for me.”
Student Speaker, Liliane Pari Umuhoza (2:20-5:45)
“My name is Liliane Pari Umuhoza, and I graduated in 2012 with Agahozo-Shalom. I’m now studying in the US at Juniata College in Pennsylvania. It is hard to talk about Agahozo-Shalom in just ten or fifteen minutes. We could spend the whole week talking about the Village. ASYV transformed our lives; that’s the summary of what Agahozo did for us. Rwanda passed through a terrible moment during the genocide in 1994 and we are the survivors. I was two during the genocide, and many of us here were babies. We lost our families, and everything was destroyed. We started from zero, from nothing. After the genocide, people were concerned about development, but not healing. People didn’t get time to heal their hearts because there were no freedoms. For instance, I survived with my mother, and she had to raise me, instead of thinking about herself. So, it was a good chance for us to go to Agahozo-Shalom, where you can meet counselors, have a new family, and be together with people who share the same stories. At Agahozo-Shalom, I got time to find myself. I was lost before. I started dreaming, and because I had access to education, I believed in myself. When people ask me, “What do you want to do in the future?” I say that I want to invest in people. I don’t know what that means, but that’s what I want to do. And it is because I have been inspired by people who invested in me. They made me who I am today, and that is Agahozo-Shalom.”
Student Speaker, Peace Grace Muhizi Umutesi (5:57-9:27)
“My name is Peace Grace, and I go to school in Atlanta. I’m really thankful because I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for Agahozo-Shalom. I truly believe that if it wasn’t for ASYV, I would be somewhere in my country just…maybe married, or maybe…I don’t know. I wouldn’t have the great life I have right now. When I was in Agahozo-Shalom, I remember we used to do community service, and that is something that I actually took with myself everywhere that I've been. Going to this small primary school, teaching English, it’s something that really impacted my life. And, where I am in college right now, I’m actually doing the same thing because of Agahozo-Shalom. I feel like I just have to interact with people that I love. There’s this small group in Atlanta. I just go there some evenings and learn with them. I only do this because it’s something that Agahozo-Shalom created in me. When I arrived in Agahozo-Shalom, they taught me that if you see far, you can go far, and that is the philosophy that I took with me.”
Brian Walsh (11:41- 12:02)
“Maybe you can answer, like when you have your roommates, you know, in college now, or your classmates, your friends, in either Canada or the United States, and they ask you about Agahozo-Shalom and your experience there, how do you describe it?”
Student Speaker, Possibly Jean Kagame (12:03-15:55)
“I don’t…sometimes I don’t wait for them to ask me. It’s always on the tip of my tongue. I tell them that it’s my first and my second family. I was just someone who likes to dream about things, but there should be something that helps you to achieve that dream. Not only dreaming, because if you keep dreaming, you will always stay where you are. But the first day when I stepped in Agahozo, I remember it clearly. It’s a long, long time ago, but I remember it. It was 15th of December 2008. That’s the day when I realized that now I have to stop dreaming and start acting, and working towards the goal that I really wanted to achieve. So when I got there, like anyone, I was trying to find myself, trying so many different things. Some worked, and others didn’t, but I knew what I wanted. I thank Agahozo so much because they helped me to become who I am today. Being in Agahozo taught me to be hardworking, but also about being a leader or a driver in my own life, because before, I was just a follower."
Student Speaker, Immaculee Mugwaneza (19:44-22:11)
“Basically, Agahozo-Shalom transformed my life. It’s the cornerstone of where I am today. As Pacifique said, we have like two divisions in Rwanda in high school. So, during the first division, I was so smart and I had good grades. But none of my professors believed in me because I was so shy. When certain opportunities came to my school, they didn’t give me the chance to go for them because I was so shy. It was like, “Oh, she’s smart but we don’t think she can handle those things.” But when I went to Agahozo-Shalom, they believed in me, and they invested in me. They told me, “If you see far, you can go far.” So I was like, “Oh if there is someone to believe in me, I have to believe in myself.” I remember the night when they told me, there is this opportunity for applying for school in America and we believe you can get admitted. I was like, “Wow, I have to go for this.” Then I applied to several schools in America and I got an admission to Arizona State University, and now I’m studying public health mostly because Agahozo-Shalom believed in me.”
Student Speaker, Claude Mahoro (22:14-23:52)
“My name is Claude Mahoro and I’m doing biomedical science at Arizona State University. I want to go to medical school, and I’m pretty sure that I will make it. Agahozo showed great faith in me. Before ASYV, I wasn’t really academically strong. I actually graduated in 2012 and then applied for American colleges. I didn’t get in the first time, but I kept trying because my friends here told me that you don’t have to give up. Keep trying, you’ll get it. And, yeah, I kept trying, and I finally got a scholarship for Arizona State University. I do believe that I can do whatever I want and I’m pretty sure I’ll make meaningful contributions to my country. So I’m really thankful to Agahozo for all the opportunities that I got there."
Student Speaker, Serge Byusa Jabo (27:00-28:30)
“The question you asked about how we explain what Agahozo-Shalom is to our roommates. I very much find myself talking about Agahozo-Shalom in everything I do. If I go on stage and dance well, when I come offstage and they say, “Oh, yeah, you did well. Where did you learn that?” It’s in Agahozo-Shalom. If I go play guitar, and they say, “Oh, you’re great, where did you learn that?” In Agahozo-Shalom. “And how did you get here?” It’s through Agahozo-Shalom. It’s everything, you know. I actually narrow it down to everything I want to do. Now I want to do computer science. Through the science center at ASYV, I developed a passion for it. I want to go back to Rwanda and use what I've learned. I can’t even remember life before coming to Agahozo-Shalom. Everything has changed. I discovered what I want to do, what I’m interested in, and I learned a lot of things. I have a beautiful family.”
Student Speaker, Maurice Ntagungira (28:35-33:20)
“I have something really short to add about the relationship between the staff and the students in Agahozo-Shalom. One thing I’ve learned which actually really made my life easier in ASU was to communicate with my professors. You know, talk to my professors, and let my professors help me…let my professors know what I want to do. Before, in our (Rwanda's) system, it was “I’m the teacher. You’re the student. You have to know that I’m the big man in the house.” There is no social interaction and it builds something that you have to be afraid of a person. Even you have to be afraid of saying that you need help. But when I arrived in the Village, everybody wanted to hug us. There was so much love and I remember asking myself, “Is this going to be there the whole time?” Some of us were like, “Maybe this is just a welcoming face, but this is not going to be there for the entire time.” But I swear this was there the whole time. We’re here because of people like JC, the directors, our mothers, and our mentors.”
Student Speaker, Innocent Nzayisenga, Blameless (33:32-38:32)
“There’s this saying that I love, and it has helped me a lot. It goes, ‘You may have left the Village, but the Village will never leave you.’ And that’s something that I took with me when I went to McGill. I was lucky enough to go with Kagame from the Village. It was a smooth transition for me and I guess for him as well. I don’t know…so much has been spoken already, but, uh, it’s hard to talk about the Village and how it transformed our lives. When I arrived in the Village, I didn’t try so many things because I was lucky to find what I needed in my life - that being music. It has not only helped myself, but also become a tool for me to help others transform their lives emotionally. Now that I know my heart is now all set, I will do whatever I can to help others, not only in Rwanda but also…the world. It’s not only Rwanda but the whole world that passes through difficult situations, and that’s why we need not only money but also emotional support. That's why I’m so interested in music therapy, not just having fun, but also making sure that we are all moving forward at the same pace. I really am so thankful for the Village."
Maurice Ntagungira (38:33-42:03)
"Saying something after Blameless, because I know him really well. We lived in the same house for four years, and he’s been such a great inspiration to my life. And I think not just Blameless, but everybody here. I think the greatest story in Agahozo is not my story, it’s all the people that I’ve seen in the Village. Seeing somebody like Innocent. When he arrived in the Village, he wasn’t the person he is today. But seeing how he grew to be the person he is today is such an inspiration to all of us. And not just to me, but to so many people in the Village, all the kids who come today, and they’re always sending us invites on Facebook. People who tell you, “you are our inspiration,” because they know all of us. They know how we grew to be the people we are today. People like Innocent, a great poet who couldn’t even say a word in English when we got in the house for the first time. Now, he speaks very complicated English.”
[Laughter] “You have to go through the dictionary to know what he’s talking about.”
“Just a story, this is a true story. Innocent read the whole dictionary. He was reading it page by page, to become the person he is today. When we were in Senior 6, he would sit in Family Time and intentionally say something like five words, and we wouldn’t understand anything. [Laughter] Just to show us that he can do it. Really, this has been one of the greatest inspirations of my life. Not that Agahozo taught me that I can do whatever I want to do, I can be whoever I want to be in life, but seeing other people doing what they want to do."