WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO GO HOME?
f you stand near “Central Park,” or the main circle in the heart of the Village where the residential sector intersects with the administrative buildings and a prominent mango tree stands tall, all you would likely hear right now is the sound of the birds chirping, the local Rubona residents chatting, the resident roosters crowing, and the rumble of a passing car or moto. The kids are away on vacation, and the Village is essentially sleeping, resting before the students return on 21 April.
The last few days prior to everyone leaving for vacation was filled with a mixture of emotions – excitement at the thought of seeing family and friends, but apprehension and sadness as Enrichment year (first year) students thought about leaving Agahozo-Shalom for the first time since they arrived in December. For most, “home” life is complicated and filled with many challenges that are not at the forefront of their minds while at Agahozo-Shalom. I am asked on a weekly and sometimes daily basis where students go during break. The answer varies quite dramatically, depending on each individual student and his or her individual circumstance. Many go home to a guardian, whether that be a grandparent, a single parent, an “adoptive” parent, an older brother and/or sister, aunt and/or uncle, or a local guardian with no official familial ties. Some of our students are heads-of-household, so they return home to younger brothers and sisters (who are taken care of and looked after while their elder sibling is at Agahozo-Shalom). Depending on the situation, we have some students who go home with fellow ASYV brothers or sisters, family Mothers, or administrators. Going back home is an important piece to the ASYV puzzle. It reminds our students where they came from, the challenges that exist beyond the idyllic walls of Agahozo-Shalom, and allows them to pay-forward the lessons they learn at ASYV to those not fortunate enough to live at the youth village. It is important to note however that if a student feels endangered in any way by returning home, ASYV will make alternative arrangements.
When our kids return home, they help out where needed. Many perform duties such as cooking, cleaning, tending to family and local farm land, collecting fire wood, fetching water, etc. Life has continued while they have been at Agahozo-Shalom, so their ability to help with chores is valuable. As Shira Liff-Grieff, one of our long-term volunteers in the Village notes, some students expressed excitement about going home and sharing their knowledge of English, telling friends and family about their life in Agahozo-Shalom, sharing information about their success in school, new-found love of guitar or piano or art, and speaking about their new friends and family in the Village … for others, the thought of going home is less exciting because they will miss the Village and their life at ASYV. For them, going home is not very exciting because it means they will have to face many hardships and perform physically demanding labor.
Life outside the walls of Agahozo-Shalom is not as comfortable as it is on the inside. The students’ homes where they go during vacation are not as well-appointed as the 32 family houses are in the Village and food is not as accessible or nutritious as the meals are that are served each and every day at ASYV, however the expectation is that the education, way of thinking, and the exposure to ideas about the world that the kids are uncovering every day, along with the core values that are one of the pillars of the Village should not stay inside the Village. All of what transpires and develops inside the walls of Agahozo-Shalom is meant to positively impact the lives of everyone who connects with them, create model citizens, and assist in developing Rwanda.
Submitted by Barrett Frankel, 2012 year-long volunteer and current ASYV-New York staff member, with contributions from 2013 year-long volunteer Shira Liff-Grieff