The Agahozo Shalom Youth Village (ASYV) is a truly unique place. Located in a beautiful rural region in the Rwamagana district of Rwanda, it is home to 500 of Rwanda’s most vulnerable youth, ranging in age from 14-22. Students are selected from each of the 30 districts of Rwanda, after being identified by local leaders as being in vulnerable situations. All are orphans by international definition (meaning they have each lost at least one parent, though many have lost both). And all have their own story, their own path, often marked by trauma, hunger, and unsafe conditions.
View of the village from the school
At Agahozo Shalom, the main goal is to heal. Repairing of the heart if first and foremost. This is done through the family structure of Agahozo Shalom. The children live in families of 16 siblings of the same gender, each with a Mama. The Mama’s are special people, many of whom lost their own families in the genocide 20 years ago, and are dedicated to being the mother to these 16 children for four years (and often beyond). Many of the children have never had a family structure before coming to Agahozo Shalom. Each family also has a Rwandan big sister or big brother for the first two years, and a cousin (which is one of the roles of the Western fellows like me). The social workers on staff provide specialized counseling services and evaluations on all of students are always available for support. The school, located at the hill above the village, provides high-quality education.
Children are all encouraged to discover and pursue their passions through the dozens of clubs and enrichment programs, ranging from dance, art, music production, debate, leadership, newspaper, world cultures, sports and many more. The days are busy, and through weekly Village Nights students share their talents through performances, followed by a dance party. Saturdays are reserved for Mucaka Mucaka (running and cheering at 5:45am), working on the farm, then mostly free time, followed by a movie after dinner. Sundays are for church, and lots of free time, catching up on homework, and preparing for the week.
Each weekday night (Sunday through Thursday) ends with Family Time after dinner, where the families gather for time together to discuss the day, do an activity, or just relax and watch a movie.
Mural outside the dining hall
I am one of 8 fellows/cousins at ASYV right now – Katherine (my roommate) in in charge of languages, Shelby works in communications, Rachel is the international guest coordinator, Becky does advocacy and partnership, Alan works with informal education, Max is an assistant in operations, and Simon (who has been here for a year already) works in IT. We have a really wonderful group!
Here at Agahozo Shalom I have several roles. My main professional role is Assistant at the Career Development and Student Resource Center. The Career Development Center is designed to help the children plan and prepare for life after the village. My role will involve helping the kids prepare resumes, practice English, prepare for standardized tests (SAT and TOFEL), apply for colleges across the world, and apply for scholarships especially for universities in the US (which a few students will attend each year).
I also serve as a Cousin for a family of 16 incredible girls. My role is as a mentor and friend. As a native English speaker, I am also there to help promote English speaking in the home. English is one of the official languages in Rwanda (along with Kinyarwanda – the most widely spoken – and French). The children all learn English in school, and by their second year at ASYV take all of their classes in English. The new students have wide ranges of English skills, from only being able to say “hello,” to being nearly fluent.
I also am helping with the debate team and debate club, and as a public speaking coach for a class at the school. The debate club decides on a topic that is debated in the family homes in the village each week. The debate team competes against other schools in Rwanda, and last year were ranked second in the country! Time to put my high school speech and debate skills to good use (obviously geeking out/super excited about that one).
I feel so lucky to be here at Agahozo Shalom, working with such incredible children and staff. Check back soon for updates about move-in day, New Year’s celebration, and our first week here.
The Rwandan flag overlooking the hills and lake outside the school