The First Month

Today marks one month since I arrived in Rwanda. As always, time is such a funny thing.

In the past month I’ve learned quite a bit.  For example, I have learned:

-Several dozen Kinyarwanda phrases (which never cease to impress my girls)
-The difficulties of washing my clothes with a bar of soap and water in a bucket (let me tell you, the clothes does not get very clean)
-The terrifying yet exhilarating experience of riding a moto down a dirt road for the first time
-But most importantly, I have learning why Agahozo-Shalom is so special.

Today we had an all-staff seminar, where the nearly 150 staff members, from teachers, to Mamas, to drivers, to the Village Director, social workers, and repairmen all came together for a day-long interactive seminar that focused on the village philosophy, core values and how we can make the most out of this year for the kids. JC, the amiable Village Director, talked about how Agahozo is home for these 500 kids. He said, “Home is not these buildings… these buildings are simple infrastructure that support us, but home is you. It is all of us.”

JC explained the goal is “to transform the most vulnerable into the most responsible.” This is something that Agahozo Shalom does remarkably. Working with the recent graduates on their applications to post-secondary jobs, scholarships, and schools, these young people are some of the most socially responsible, passionate, and directed people I have ever had the pleasure of working with. This past weekend, I helped a recent graduate prepare for an interview. She was discussing how important Tikkun Olam (Hebrew word for “repairing the world”) was during her time at ASYV. She explained that Agahozo Shalom gave her the opportunity to help others when she thought she had nothing to give. Once she realized that she had worth, it empowered her to realize her true potential and teach other girls their true value. Her response left me speechless with chills. It was truly beautiful.

All of the staff are so inspiring and dedicated, and no matter what, the focus is always on the kids. Everyone has a talent, and every child has the opportunity to discover it, whether that be through the science center, recording studio, debate team, hospitality club, performing at Village Time, or helping others through Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). These kids are transformed. They are confident leaders, passionate about making a difference, excited about their futures as they grow up at Agahozo Shalom Youth Village.

It is unlike anywhere I have ever been before.

Tonight, the girls in my family – despite having to be at breakfast at 6am tomorrow morning – insisted that we continue to play games and chat during family time tonight. Despite my intermittent yawns, their unrestricted joy and candid laughter kept me going. I felt so at peace, laughing uncontrollably and joyfully feeling so completely at home. They said they were having too much fun to go to sleep.

And this passion and motivation carries into every aspect of their lives here at Agahozo.

It is difficult to believe that just one month ago, some of my girls were living in dilapidated homes and struggled to find one meal a day, while others were the heads of their households. It is like Agahozo Shalom is a magical place.

Before leaving the states, I was constantly asked by nearly everyone “Why are you going to Rwanda for a year.” Now, I can only think, how could I not be here? How could I possibly be anywhere else? There is no where else that is as inspiring, as challenging, or as rewarding as Agahozo Shalom. It is one of the hardest places I have been – there are constant stressors and difficulties- but the happiness and joy far outweigh the hard moments. I feel like I am my best self here.


What an incredible first month it has been. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead.



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3 responses to “The First Month

  1. Renee

    Dana. Just beautiful and so powerful. Love you. Aunt Renee


  2. Jane Urban

    Dana, continue the joyful, beautiful mentoring of the young people! A circle of hope and light!


  3. I love this: I feel like I am my best self here.


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