On September 20th, at six o’clock in the morning, Icyizere Grade (first-year students) embarked on a hike that led to an epic picnic at Mugesera Lake. It is tradition within ASYV for first-year students to spend a day outside of the Village to celebrate all that they have accomplished throughout the year, and to solidify their bond as a grade before heading home for vacation. The excursion to the lake was met with joy from the students, and some moaning from the staff. Mugesera is a beautiful lake that curves along the nearby mountains and valleys in a way that makes it impossible to view the full body of water from any one location. Students and staff began walking to the lake in the early hours of the morning so the hike would not coincide with the unrelenting mid-day heat of the Rwandan sun. Mamas, kids, big brothers and sisters, cousins – everyone laced up their shoes to walk the 5 miles to the lake. 

Although the hike seemed daunting, time moved quickly as families walked together. The big group of 128 students, and nearly 50 staff members attracted quite a lot of attention from local Rubona residents, and created the sensation of walking down a red carpet for three hours. Upon arriving at the lake, the kids became ecstatic. They ran to the water, eager to feel its coolness against their skin.  They didn’t darego in, as most do not know how to swim. The morning was filled with taking photos, walking along the water’s edge, and just sitting in the grass, conversing with one another. 

The day was filled with games such as tug of war, which were an all-inclusive and became quite competitive. It’s fair to say that everyone was fully exhausted by noon and ready for some refreshments. 

Lunch was an amazing feast of rice, meat, bananas, and beans - a perfect blend of Rwanda’s finest cuisine. As lunch was served, something unexpected occurred. Many of the children who live up the road from the lake, heard the music and wandered down to survey the scene. These children were hungry, their clothes were torn, and ASYV students saw the similarities between them and their younger selves – versions of who they were before coming to Agahozo-Shalom. Without a word from the staff, several students began distributing their own portion of food to the hungry kids. The trend caught on, and suddenly everywhere you turned, an ASYV student was sharing lunch with about five small children. 

This moment was the perfect way to recognize their growth over the past year. When they first arrived at ASYV, there was no laughter, there was no sharing, there was little thought given to others. After all, what was there to smile about, and who among them had anything to give to others? Flash forward to today, 10 months later, and our kids project a different frame of mind. They know how good it feels to receive kindness and have begun the difficult process of absolving their pasts in the spirit of Tikkun Halev (healing the heart). After this year, they appear ready to pay that act of kindness forward through the philosophy of Tikkun Olam (healing the world by helping others).  As the sun began to set, everyone began the long hike home. The walk was concentrated on highlights and anecdotes from the 12 hour picnic, and before you knew it, everyone was entering the gates of the Village, back home at Agahozo-Shalom. The day was long, but was absolutely flawless. Many expressed that, “A more wonderful day has not before existed.

Lunch was followed by a three-hour dance party, which was a marathon as much as a celebration. During this time, family-by-family was called down to the water for a boat ride across the lake. Most of the students had never been in water, let alone chartered across a lake on a boat! Cheers could be heard for miles, as all eight families embarked on their 20-minute voyage. The boat-ride was a highlight for everyone, staff and students alike. 

Submitted by Sasha Friedman, 2014 Village Fellow