I first learned about Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village when I heard the founder, Anne Heyman, speak at a conference on Faith and International Development. It was 2008, I was living in Jerusalem and studying for a masters in nonprofit management and international development. Her words stayed with me as she described the miraculous conception, development and launching of the project. Less than two years later, I find myself privileged enough to be working for Agahozo-Shalom as the Director of Volunteer Services.
Opened in December 2008, the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village offers a home to teenagers orphaned by violence, AIDS and other causes. Agahozo-Shalom is not an orphanage or a boarding school. It's an innovative community where traumatized young people band together to form surrogate families of peers and receive essential education and support from a network of dedicated staff.
In a world that is too often filled with words and ideas, Agahozo-Shalom and Heyman herself are singular models of the power of action. After Anne first conceived of the Village in the fall of 2005, she moved quickly to make things happen. She flew to Israel, studied the model of Yemin Orde Youth Village, built a network of Rwandan advisers and, within a few short years, had the Village constructed and open for the first class of students in December 2007.
Agahozo-Shalom is a place of miracles.
The Village today is home to nearly 400 orphans and vulnerable children who have a home, a family, access to education, health care and counseling. For our 100 Rwandan staff members, Agahozo-Shalom is committed to creating opportunity and building capacity.
We tell our students at the Village -- who learn at a school perched high on the top of a hill -- that "If you see far, you will go far."
For the dozens of volunteers and visitors who come to the Village each year, I say, "If you go far, you will see far." A visit to Agahozo-Shalom is an eye-opening, life changing experience -- an inspiration. For the many volunteers who come to the Village because they long to understand the planet, broaden their horizons or to make a difference, Agahozo-Shalom is a pivotal moment in their lives. The Village leaves a strong impact -- a lasting imprint -- on everyone who wanders its paths and climbs its hills.
Over the past year and a half, I've developed volunteer programs for a range of people who want to get involved. We offer 10-day service learning trips for families and college students, as well as year-long professional placements in fields such as agro-business, English as a Second Language, IT and more. We welcome visitors who want to stay overnight in our guest houses and share communal meals in the Village Dining Hall.
This blog will be a space for sharing the stories of volunteers. Through their eyes, you will meet the students of the Village, hear their music, feel their spirit. Through their words, may you, too, be inspired to act.