Agahozo Shalom founder dies in accident

Rwandans, especially residents of Rwamagana District are struggling to come to terms with the sudden death of Anne Heyman, the founder of Agahozo Shalom Youth Village.
The late Anne Heyman. Sunday Times/Courtesy
The late Anne Heyman. Sunday Times/Courtesy

Rwandans, especially residents of Rwamagana District are struggling to come to terms with the sudden death of Anne Heyman, the founder of Agahozo Shalom Youth Village.

The model village, based in Rubona Sector, is both a home and an education institution for hundreds of children, most of them orphans whose parents were killed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Heyman and her husband Seth Merrin, started the facility in 2006.

Nehemie Uwimana, the Mayor of Rwamagana District said that the country had lost a caring person who was committed to improving the lives of disadvantaged children.

“Of course the whole country is mourning since students came across all over the country, but our district in particular has lost a great person. She has been supporting us in many areas, particularly in equipping the vulnerable with what they needed most in life, education,” he said.

Uwimana said that the deceased has left legacy that will live forever in Rwamagana, saying that most resident’s still can’t believe that she is dead.

Heyman died on Friday in accident after falling off a horse she was riding. 

The model village she founded is producing educated young people needed to champion development in the district and the country at large, local leaders said.

Jean-Claude Nkulikiyimfura, the Director of Agahozo Shalom Village, said the school and entire community was in shock.

He said the deceased had touched many lives and contributed greatly in the socio-economic development of the country. 

“We have lost a rare character...someone who has been visiting the school at least four times a year, spending over 17 days each time. Her dedication was second to none in the world. We are thus left with a huge challenge to keep alive her spirit of love and care,” he said.

Nkulikiyimfura said that her husband, Seth Merrin, had assured of continued support for the village. 

“We received a tweeter message from her husband...he said he would ensure that the dream of the village is realised. Maintaining a village of great hope and promise to the orphans will remain our goal.”

Agahozo Village has almost all amenities and facilities a school needs, such as library, gymnasium, resource centre, amphitheater, computer labs, science centre, playground, green houses, community centre among others. In addition, the village has land for farming and vocational training.

About Anne Heyman

A native of South Africa, Heyman was once Manhattan’s Assistant District Attorney. She defended the rights of New Yorkers.

She was dedicated to helping children orphaned in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.

Motivated by Israeli youth villages that took in Holocaust orphans, Heyman and Merrin, set out to build a place where Rwandan orphans could go to live, study and help rebuild their country.

The couple raised $12 million through personal donations and contributions from friends, foundations and corporate sponsors.

Agahozo Shalom, a combination of Kinyarwanda and Hebrew (meaning a place to dry tears and live in peace) has 500 students. A least 250 students have since graduated from the school.

Heyman is survived by three children: Jason, Jenna and Jonathan and husband Merrin.