Memory, memorial, remembrance, mourning … These are all eerily familiar words at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, and for that reason taken very seriously. Each year a single day is set aside to remember all of the individuals in the Agahozo-Shalom family that have passed away. Since the Village opened its doors, the ASYV community has been forced to say goodbye to three students and four staff members due to a variety of incurable illnesses and unexpected accidents. Each loss has been a deep shock to the ASYV family, where the students and staff live so closely to one another, know each other so intimately, and care so deeply for each other.
ASYV set aside this past Sunday, September 2, 2013 as a day to remember and memorialize those who have perished. A heavy air settled over the Village Saturday night as everyone prepared themselves for the day to come. Visitors came from far and wide to pay their respects, and family members of the departed came to the Village and shared lunch with others who loved and lived with their children, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives.
The guests, along with close Village family members partook in a special, private service prior to the community-wide service. In a small, intimate circle, families spoke of the incredible merits of those who have passed and the valuable lessons they left behind that those in attendance are striving to uphold. At 3pm the entire Village community gathered in the Dining Hall. At the front of the room stood a podium and memorial beautifully decorated with flowers, photographs, and candles. The ASYV Catholic choir was gathered and stood together on one side of the stage, while family members and guests filled the front rows. A visiting priest led a beautiful ceremony, interspersed with soul-inspiring music and contributions from the Agahozo-Shalom residents. Students sang songs that they had written in memory of their friends and mentors who they were memorializing. Poems were read bearing the names of the departed, and individuals stood before the community to share their words about how much those lost have meant to them. They told new students about the incredible people the ASYV community has lost, and how their spirits will forever be a part of the Agahozo-Shalom family. The atmosphere was somber, but encouraging, and the environment was sad, but beautiful and inspiring. The message was one of strength, courage, belief in the mission and vision of Agahozo-Shalom and a reiterance of the importance of maintaining the integrity of the ASYV community.
The ceremony came to an end with a moving poetic speech delivered by a Family Mama, who stood while holding a single candle and spoke lovingly of her colleagues and children. She emphasized the importance of being together and remembering.
As the day closed, the Village Director addressed the community expressing his deepest gratitude for all who were present, appreciation for those who had traveled so far and the incredible contributions of those who have perished. He talked of how we must always be supportive of each other and never forget the incredible souls that once walked among us.