This week I visited Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYV), about an hour outside of Kigali, at the recommendation of a visiting Rabbi in Des Moines, Danya Ruttenberg, last fall. I was told that the village was modeled after youth villages in Israel that were created for orphaned and vulnerable youth after the Holocaust. The Jewish connection sparked an interest and I am beyond glad that I decided to go to experience the magic of the village.
Opened in 2008, ASYV is made up of 500 orphaned and extremely vulnerable youth from around Rwanda between the ages of 14-20. These students are chosen based on their level of vulnerability and brought to the village to immediately join a family. Families are made up of 16 youth, of the same gender, with one Rwandan Momma (a woman that lives with the family through their time in the village). There are 3 male families and 5 female families in each grade. Students take their regular curriculum such as math, science, language, and economics at the high school up the hill and take their enrichment programs such as music, art, carpentry, football, karate, and computer within the village after class.
The village focuses on its seven core values and specifically focuses on the Hebrew ideas of Tikkun Halev (healing the heart) and Tikkun Olam (healing the world). For these vulnerable youth that came out of extreme poverty, child-led households, abuse, or neglect, the first step in their time at ASYV is healing their heart. They do this through the enrichment programs where they can express themselves and through the love that surrounds them every day in their family. After their first year at the village, the focus shifts to how they can heal the world. With the amazing opportunities they get in the village, the youth are passionate about paying it forward to the local community surrounding them. Every week students build houses for the elderly and disadvantaged in the community and teach English to students that don’t have the same access to education that they do.
On Friday night (my second and final night at the village) a number of students, during the weekly talent show, presented the organization that they were building called “Hope for the Future.” In this organization the students, who just four years ago were some of the most vulnerable youth in the country, are finding young children in their area that to time and money into, helping them get nourishment, education, and hope. The ASYV students live by Tikkun Olam.
I could go on and on about the inspiration of the village and the youth that make it up. I could talk about the questions I was asked that blew me out of the water for their thoughtfulness and nuance. I could talk about the talent that these students shared with each other and the way they lifted each other up. I could talk about the way I was welcomed by every single individual I passed in the village. I could talk about how every student knew the importance of their education and the importance of taking advantage of the opportunities they were handed through ASYV. I could talk about a lot of things. But I will end with a quote that took my breath away and shows that these young people know the meaning of Tikkun Olam:
“We do not give because we have a lot to give. We give because we know what it is like to have almost nothing.”
To find out more about this magical and inspiring place PLEASE check out asyv.org.