The First Lady, Jeannette Kagame, on Thursday presided over a fundraiser which collected $91,000 (about Rwf61.4 million) for the youths at Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYC) based in Rwamagana District, Eastern Province.
Mrs Kagame, who called on the youths to make the most of the skills and values they learn from the village, contributed $5000 (about Rwf3.3 million).
The target was to raise $100,000 for the the upkeep of the ASYC youths.
Mrs Kagame urged the ASYC youths, and the Rwandan youth in general, to face up to life’s challenges and be agents of change.
The Village, home to more than 500 vulnerable children, provides the beneficiaries with a comprehensive education package, including formal and informal skills.
Its founder, Anne Heyman, a Jewish philanthropist who died in February in a horse riding accident in the US, was praised by the First Lady as “an honourable person”.
Mrs Kagame described the late Heyman as ““one of the caring spirits whose dream was to support our country restore the rhythm of life – a natural and beautiful rhythm that was disrupted, during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.”
“We honour Anne’s noble vision of creating a space where both healing and learning could happen – the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village.” Many students at the Village are Genocide orphans.
Following Heyman’s death, the government announced it would step up its support to Agahozo-Shalom, with a commitment to pay teachers’ salaries and provide operational budget.
The fundraiser was attended by Heyman’s husband, Seth Merrin, who told the gathering that his family will not allow death to derail his decease wife’s dream. “When you consider where the children came from and what they are capable of now, it proves that many of the children across the country can also prosper.”
He spoke of the tragic events that have befallen both Rwandans and Jews. “Seventy years ago, my ancestors suffered a genocide and there were few people who came out to help those that they did not know and we were very grateful. Twenty years ago you went through a genocide here and there are special people that came out to help those that they did not know.”
He added: “We did not have a country to go to, Israel had not been created yet…it all started out with a problem, that led to some questions which became a dream and the dream resulted into Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village.”
The ASYC is modelled after Yemin Orde, an Israeli youth village established in 1953 to provide care for orphans from the Holocaust. The Rwandan village is regarded as a place where tears are dried (‘agahozo’ in Kinyarwanda) and where vulnerable youth can live in peace (from the Hebrew word, ‘shalom’).
The First Lady challenged the youth to make the most of the skills they have acquired, saying they had capacity to go all the way. “If you take full advantage of the holistic educational approach: the intellectual growth, the healing and emotional component, and the exposure to practical skills, there is no doubt that this community of change makers will deliver no less than the incredible.”
She urged the ASYC youth to “think of yourselves as a community of change makers and understand that every opportunity demands you to be the very best of yourselves.”
You must always strive for the highest manifestation of your talents and realise that excellence will always be expected of you, Mrs Kagame added.
The village equips the youth there with a wide-range of skills depending on their talents – from art to modern agriculture.
The fundraising drive was held under the theme, “Stand Up and Be Counted”, which the First Lady said resonates with the theme for this year’s 20th National Liberation Anniversary – Together We Prosper. “Rwandans resolved to continue standing for dignity, by working towards economic liberation. Supporting Agahozo Shalom Youth Village is a symbol that we can and should support our very own and thus guard this jewel we call Rwanda.”
The Executive Director, ASYC, Danielle S. Burenstein, described the village as not just a place where children go to school but a home. “This is a place where children who have come from difficult and oftentimes unimaginable circumstances, and despite differences and backgrounds, are home. They are healing, they are living, they are planning for the future and working for the future not just their own but ours and this country’s.”
The State Minister for Technical and Vocational Education and Training, Albert Nsengiyumva, pledged continued government support to the village. “The government will be happy to invest in infrastructure at the Village. We are also in discussions with Seth to find ways of turning the village into a business asset as a way of giving opportunities to students so that they can establish their own businesses.”
Click here for the First Lady's remarks at the fundraising event