In November of 2005, Agahozo-Shalom Founder Anne Heyman and her husband, Seth Merrin, heard a talk about the Rwandan genocide. At the time, the biggest problem Rwanda was facing was the vast number of orphans living in the country, following the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis. At the time, there was no systemic solution in place to support the orphans’ well-being and development.
Anne, a South African-born lawyer and mother of three living in New York City, connected the challenge of the Rwandan orphan population to the similar challenge that Israel faced after the Second World War. When there was a large influx of orphans from the Holocaust, Israel built residential living and learning communities called youth villages. Anne was inspired to bring this model to Rwanda.
Driven by a vision and a passion to give, Anne began reaching out to people in Israel, Rwanda and the United States to share her idea and learn how to realize her vision. On December 15, 2008, the first 128 students moved in to the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYV). Today, ASYV is a fully-scaled independent 501(c)3 non-profit organization home to nearly 500 youth, with close to 250 graduate alumni. ASYV is known throughout the world through the support of various individuals, institutions, and communities.
Anne Heyman, 52, died in Wellington, Florida on Friday 31 January 2014 after falling from her horse during a competition.
Anne was an avid equestrian and competition show jumper. Contributing to finding solutions to the world’s problems was the very gem that made Anne who she was. She embodied the spirit of giving and felt obligated to uphold the Israeli philosophy of tikkun olam (closely translated as “repair the world”), which compels individuals to give back to society.
Throughout her life, Anne actively contributed to the wellbeing of others. Her role as former President of the Board of Directors of Dorot reflects her ongoing commitment to the many needs of the homebound and homeless elderly. Her dedication to and work with the Abraham Joshua Heschel School in New York, Young Judaea, Tufts University Hillel, University of Pennsylvania Hillel and the Jewish Community Centers of America show how important Jewish youth and continuity are to her and her family’s foundation, of which she directed.
“Love that repairs the world” represents what Anne lived for and defines how others viewed her spirit. At 52 years of age, Anne Heyman-Merrin is survived by her husband, Seth Merrin, and three children. Her love will continue to touch millions of lives in Rwanda and undoubtedly across the world.
Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village
The seeds of love that Anne planted in the creation of ASYV will continue to bear fruits and ensure that her legacy lives on forever. ASYV is a community where orphaned and vulnerable Rwandan youth are transformed into analytical thinkers and change-makers who aspire to contribute to the development of their communities, both domestically and abroad.
A holistic approach to the “orphan problem”
Students at the Village participate in four years of intensive formal and informal education, after which they are encouraged to continue their studies at university or begin their professional careers. Deeply embedded in ASYV’s educational approach are two Jewish teachings upon which the Village’s entire philosophy rests; Tikkun Halev, repairing the heart, and Tikkun Olam, repairing the world.
The traditional education department follows the curriculum approved by the government of Rwanda while informal education is comprised of numerous enrichment and professional skill programs. The Village emphasizes math, science and technology. In this way, ASYV is supporting the creation of a generation that is innovative and can design and implement practical solutions to Rwanda’s, as well as the world’s, toughest problems.
When new students enter the Village, their first year is an enrichment (EY) or “catch-up” year in which they review previously studied material and focus on acquiring and improving their English skills. EY students also acclimate to the ASYV teaching methodology and pedagogy, which is vastly different from the more traditional rote methodology used throughout Rwanda. At the Liquidnet Family High School, students are taught critical thinking and analytical skills that enable them to be problem-solvers and forward thinkers.
ASYV students are given the tools to reach their full potential. Formal education is viewed as the most important way for the youth to break out from the cycle of poverty and trauma and become productive members of Rwandan society. All classes are taught in English.
According to Jean Claude Nkulikimfura, the Village Director, the goals of the EY are to restore the students’ love of learning, to develop better learning habits and to prepare the students for higher-level studies. “Much of the learners’ personal development is owed to our enrichment programs – our after school programs where many are exposed to art and music and hands on science for the first time, where they discover and nurture talents they had never even dreamed of and where they begin to see how much potential – and the opportunities – they really have in life,” Anne Heyman once said.
To supplement the process, the Village has a health and wellness center with both medical and social workers available to aid the students’ wellbeing whenever needed.
ASYV runs over twenty enrichment programs, which encompass science and technology, arts sports, and other professional skills that are meant to equip students with invaluable life and professional skills.
Leadership skills are strongly encouraged within the Village, which has led to the creation of close to thirty student-founded and run clubs. Students are also engaged in farming activities. The goals of the ASYV farm are to provide food for the Village (over 30% of the food consumed comes from the ASYV farm), offer students hands-on, educational opportunities in farm work and methodology, and to support the Village financially through harvest sales.
Eligibility to join ASYV
Common to all children at the Village is their former vulnerability, which serves as the basic criteria of student recruitment. A team of ASYV educators travel throughout Rwanda, interviewing those deemed most vulnerable and willing, able, and eager to take advantage of all of the opportunities provided at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village.
The initial list of vulnerable youth is provided to the Village by distric authorities. Children between the age of fifteen and seventeen years,who have completed lower secondary school are among the one hundred twenty eight students who move into ASYV each January.
Torn lives rebuilt and ready to give back
All students at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village are orphans of one parent or both and have, in most cases, been exposed to various sorts of violence and/or trauma. In order to meet the needs of teenagers struggling with the aftereffects of extreme vulnerability, Agahozo-Shalom seeks to “restore the rhythm of life” by providing a safe, structured environment in which they can heal and thrive.
ASYV is an innovative living, learning, and healing community in which young people band together to form surrogate families of peers and receive essential education and support from a network of dedicated staff. Within AYSV’s supportive and structured community, the rhythm of life is being restored to each of its residents, with the ultimate goal of equipping young people who have lived through great trauma to become healthy, self-sufficient, and engaged in rebuilding their nation. Craftwork, playing musical instruments, singing, drama, video production, photography, and dancing are part of the long list of talents that students have access to unearthing during their tenure at the Village. Nineteen–year-old Muhizi Peace Grace is one of the “Imbuto Grade” graduates of 2013. When asked to recall her first day in ASYV, the young and rather confident lady found herself in an emotional struggle that left her in tears. After a minute, she managed to compose herself and give her response.
“I never knew my parents. I am told they passed on before I was hardly two months. That was during the Genocide. After that, I was alternated between various people at times with an aunt, a sister or another relative. This made my life quite challenging while growing up”, said Peace Grace. “As days went by, Agahozo proved different [from my previous homes]. It was a very warm place and gave me the opportunity to discover my own life profoundly.
Everyone was lovely and loving, a phenomenon that I was not used to. I am just happy that I had the opportunity to call ASYV home.” Of ASYV’s two hundred fifty graduates, many have secured education bursaries in both local and foreign universities. “Even after leaving, we keep track of the lives of our children. We are a home, not just a school. They remain our children and will forever be,” Nkulikiyimfura stated.
Who supports ASYV?
Running a Village of five hundred students and a staff of over one hundred fifty, ASYV, a traditional non-profit is always searching for various forms of support. “Our students do not pay a single franc, thus all the money required to run the community is acquired through donations and support from our various partners,” Nkulikiyimfura noted.
There is no limitation on how much one can give in support of this Village or who should give, presenting an open invitation for anyone to contribute and help solve Rwanda’s growth paradox. Educating Rwanda’s youth is imperative to maintaining a strong and unified Rwandan State. Every willing individual and organization can show their support of this incredible Village where the hearts and souls of Rwanda’s vulnerable youth are mended.
You can help keep Anne Heyman’s legacy alive and support the youth of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village by donating at www.asyv.org/donate.