The Government has pledged more support to Agahozo Shalom Youth Village following the death of its founder, Anne Heyman.
Education minister Dr. Vincent Biruta yesterday told mourners at a funeral service held in her honour at the Rwamagana-based village that Heyman’s approach in helping vulnerable children is a success and the government had Mulled over the idea to replicate it in other parts of the country.
“On behalf of the government, we pledge support to the village’s projects in all ways we can and continue from where the late Anne Heyman left. Her approach in dealing with the orphan situation in the country had proven to be effective and we will ensure that all her efforts are not for nothing,” Biruta said.
He revealed he had discussed with Heyman about the future of the village, when she visited the country about a month ago.
Heyman died on January 28 after falling in a horse jumping competition in Florida, USA. She was 52.
Describing Heyman as a selfless lady who went out of her way to heal the wounds of disadvantaged children, Biruta told the crestfallen beneficiaries that “the best way to honour her memory, her life and work is to be what she wished for you to become — responsible citizens of the Rwanda and the world.”
The memorial service was also attended by the Minister of Family and Gender, Oda Gasinzigwa; the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, Kampeta Sayinzoga and the US ambassador to Rwanda Donald Koran.
Emotions were high at the event with members of the audience visibly moved to tears as various speakers took to the podium to recount how she had touched the youth.
Lilian Umuhoza, one the first batch of graduates, recounted how hopeless they were when they joined the institution on December 15 2010, but experienced transformation during their stay there.
”From Anne Heyman we learnt values to take us through all situations of life and took lessons of compassion and sharing what we have with the unfortunate around us. She took us in and made us believe in ourselves and have an impact on the world. The only way we can truly honour her is by achieving our wildest dreams as she would have wanted us to,” Umuhoza said amidst tears.
Danielle Burenstein, a New York-based Executive Director of the village, said Heyman believed and worked for change needed in the community.
“She did not just sit around and wish that there be change. She took it upon herself to show us courage, vision and determination by bringing tremendous change all from an idea. To the learners, she taught them that there is no limit to what can be achieved no matter your background.”
In a televised message, Seth Merrin, the late founder’s husband promised continued support to the village, terming the beneficiaries of in the village as his children.
“We are all sad but we are together, you are part of our family, you are my children. The biggest task is up to us to keep her alive in our lives by making sure that everything that we do makes the world a better place as she did.”
Speaking on behalf of the board members, Laurie Toll Franz told the audience that Heyman not only touched lives, but also gave other people a chance to do the same, adding that that would be the reason Agahozo would still stand even after the founder’s demise.
Agahozo admits orphaned and vulnerable youth from across the country, placing them in family-like structure where they are cared for with the help of house mothers.
At the Village, learners get more than just formal academic training. They get informal skills as well honing of their talents such that they have options to choose from on completion of their studies.
They also get to make use of their various skills and talents for both their benefit and the community.
There are about 20 enrichment programmes (both academic and informal skills) and more than 20 student-run clubs to build leadership skills.