Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Trip to the Agohozo Shalom Youth Village: Daphne Amir, '12

My name is Daphne Amir, and this past May, I traveled to Rwanda on a Jewish service and learning trip with Tufts Hillel. Thanks to a generous donation from the Cummings Foundation, twenty of my peers and I had the unique opportunity to volunteer at the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village and learn about the Rwandan genocide of 1994. After traveling the rugged, rundown streets of Kigali, we finally arrived at the village. I was astounded; the Rwandan countryside was the most breathtaking landscape I had ever seen. What I could not reconcile, however, was that the beautiful scenery of Rwanda, also known as the Land of a Thousand Hills, completely mismatched the inhumanity and bloodshed that had taken place on its soil.

Little did I know until my arrival at Agahozo Shalom that Anne Heyman, the founder, used Rwanda’s scenery to the advantage of the kids in the village. “If you see far, you will go far” is painted on an impressive mural at the entrance to ASYV. From the top of the hill, a student can gaze at Lake Mugesera embedded in a valley for miles and miles. Although Rwanda witnessed a great tragedy, the village encourages students to take pride in the beauty of their country and to be instilled with a sense of hope and purpose.

The layout of the village was also truly intentional. Agahozo Shalom, which is located on one of Rwanda’s many hills, uses the land formation to delineate its ideology. With housing located at the bottom, the dining hall midway, and the high school at the top, ASYV preaches that education is of the highest priority, followed by community.

I was completely awestruck by the kids at the village upon discovering our shared values of tikun halev and tikun olam—healing the heart and healing the world. The village is committed to helping children who have suffered in their past to heal, which will prepare them to give back to the world. Having attended a Jewish day school, I had never heard these particular phrases used outside of a Jewish context. I was absolutely amazed to hear the kids, from a completely different culture and place, speak the words that had guided me in my Jewish education. The concepts fit seamlessly into the village context, and this commonality made me feel so connected to the kids.
Seeing that the kids were instilled with hope and joy was one of the most empowering experiences I have ever had. It was invaluable to learn about Rwanda’s dark history and then be able to meet the inspirational, young survivors who will carry their country forward. The trip has taught me many precious lessons, among which is my connection and compassion to people across borders. I have experienced the value and importance of contributing to a community whose core values include healing its individual members and so selflessly reaching out to the rest of the world. I send my love and best wishes to the kids in ASYV, and I truly believe that they will do great things.

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